You've probably not heard this record.
Don't be embarrassed even if you should be ashamed. There are numerous reasons behind you not having heard it.
Darren Hayes, the record's creator, is someone you spent most of the nineties listening to, especially if you ever had the radio on during that time. He was one half of Savage Garden, whose record sales were somewhere between the 20 and 30 million mark worldwide, and whose folding allowed Darren to pursue a solo career.
At first his debut LP Spin picked up some traction, especially with the lead single Insatiable, on which his vocal seemed uncannily Michael Jackson like at times.
Spin didn't change the world, but it did permit him to make a follow up, The Tension and the Spark, which to my mind was a great album, and one which allowed Darren to mess around with his sound, be more tortured, and lay the groundwork for his more textured and dramatic music that would later follow.
The super slick radio hit maker was no more: he was more likely to be working with Marius De Vries et al and playing around with electronica and old synths. Vocally, Darren is the kind of the guy who could sing the phone book and have you enthralled. Check out his version of Madonna's Ray of Light to get an inkling of how amazing he is in front of a mic stand.
But why is it that This Delicate Thing We've Made and Darren's other solo output have rarely received the kind of attention that his (comparatively inferior) Savage Garden work did? Well for one thing, Darren's solo work has rarely been as straightforward and pop radio friendly as his Savage Garden work was. This, coupled with his battle with his sexuality and the difficulty facing gay acts in the nineties and the turn of the millennium, made for a muted audience and press reception for his work. Additionally, the freedom of releasing This Delicate Thing We've Made, his double disc opus of 2007 through his own label, also meant that he didn't have the same kind of major label resources at his disposal to promote his work to wider audiences.
It's a shame, because in my opinion, TDTWM is one of the few double albums that consistently holds its tone and only rarely missteps. The music is sophisticated, full of intriguing melodies and the lyrics are always poignant and expressive. It's a seamless meeting of personal honesty, reflection and sci/fi fantasy styled story telling that creates a detailed picture of Darren's histories and state of mind rather than the expressive but wider brush strokes of Savage Garden's material.
One of the recurring themes on the album is the idea of going back in time to change the end outcomes. I remember listening to the album and being completely caught up in the idea at the time. How to Build a Time Machine sets up the paradox of going back to times of cherished memories and heartbreaking moments, armed with the self awareness that only time and experience can bestow on us. Casey takes us back again, but without the insanity and fear: it's poignant and sad, but radiating a warmth that thaws out the icy strings and synths.
Sinister memories reach their apex with Neverland, in which the young Darren imagines topping his father with a toaster in the bathtub. It's wonky pop: a seductive pop melody providing the background to some of the most brutal recollections on the album.
Even in his Savage Garden days, Darren's skill with balladry was already peerless, and on TDTWM there's room and scope for some gorgeous, lush ballads beyond the trips back in time. The trilogy of Sing to Me, The Only One and The Tuning of Violins, give you the sense that his recent marriage at the time did much to restore his romantic's heart. After all, as Darren points out on Who Would Have Thought, nobody tells us "that a heart is like a deep deep freeze/so many lies/ so much of it broken".
Being a double album, there's also still scope to explore his other side, and that side, the electronica-dance loving Darren, crafts some equally impressive moments. The 1983 Fairlight synth is impossibly modern on songs like Me, Myself and I and the dance chart hit, Step Into The Light which also received the full remix treatment.
So many elements conspired against the commercial success of this album, and perhaps we're moving into a time when sexuality and indie labels are no longer the barriers they once were. But gems like this one deserve a relistening, and if you've got the time, take the full journey back and listen to both discs before you try hunting down Darren's subsequent side project We Are Smug and his subsequent return to pop form Secret Codes and Battleships.
Dave Di Vito is a writer, teacher and former curator.He's also the author of the Vinyl Tiger series and Replace The Sky.
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