The Midsummer Station, the latest from electronic pop artist Adam Young (aka Owl City), leaves such a forgettable impression that it makes me think Young should have skipped this “station” completely.
When Owl City’s breakout hit “Fireflies” hit the airwaves in 2009, part of the appeal was the fact that Young was writing and recording all his stuff alone in his basement. Not only was the song incredibly catchy, but it gave hope to other basement artists everywhere. Admittedly, Young’s followup basement record All Things Bright and Beautiful (2011) yielded nothing so memorable as “Fireflies,” and that no doubt prompted an exodus from the basement to record The Midsummer Station the “normal” way (i.e., with co-writers, producers and guest vocals in the studio).
Unfortunately, this maneuver has only made the waters murkier, diffusing Young’s wide-eyed energy into a morass of bubble-gum pop mediocrity that is destined to be lost in the wash of the thousands of other soundalike formulaic pop songs that are flooding the market. The entire album lacks any semblance of energy or momentum. Even the appearance of current pop sensation Carly Rae Jepsen on “Good Time” doesn’t help the cause much. In fact, it comes off like a gimmick, an attempt to piggyback Owl City on the back of Jepsen’s recent successes to trigger more sales than the album would make on its own. While Jepsen certainly does no damage, it’s safe to say that the collaboration amounts to less than the sum of its parts.
As difficult as it was to listen to The Midsummer Station, there are glimmers of hope—moments when Young’s talent still shines. One notable bright spot is “Silhouette,” a piano ballad where he displays remarkable honesty and vulnerability, making it one of the few places on the record where the music is actually believable.
It pains me to say all this, because Adam Young seems a very likable fellow. Believe me, I wanted to like this record. Nor do I blame Young completely for this fiasco, because interviews I’ve read suggest he’d probably have been more comfortable doing his thing in the basement. Arguably, something needed to be done to jumpstart Owl City’s impact, but shoving him into the popstar cookie-cutter formula was absolutely the wrong move. Sadly, the label execs wasted their money on this one. My only hope is that when this album bombs, they will own their error and not make Owl City the scapegoat for their own failure.