I first heard a song from this album late night on PBS. The DJ suggested it sounded like a solo album that never was from an 80’s new romantic band. He went on to remark that the track he was about to play had this incredible faux pan pipe sound like those dinky South American bands that play at Preston market.
The track he played, Proud is the best song on the album, it’s straight from the pop music charts circa 1984, “I can’t tell if people flirt with me because I look miserable or loose/ but I can always be proud/like we always said we would,” O’Connor gasps before the infamous faux pipes come in and they sound like something Toto or Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark would wet themselves with joy over.
Melbourne based O’Connor may be better known for his work with popsters Crayon Fields or under his other solo moniker Sly Hats. Vanity Is Forever took two years to record and does some really interesting things. It’s simultaneously kitsch yet reverential, earnest with its heart on its sleeve whilst joyfully tugging at the corpse of 80’s pop. The album is lush, smooth despite its at times forced artificiality. O’Connor breathlessly murmurs close mic’d, fragile, drawing upon the ghosts of the past but leading them into new directions, finding the darkness, or perhaps lovesick melancholia lurking beneath the big hair and fluro colours.
He comes across like a gentler Bryan Ferry more circumspect, yet with a dry wit that comes out occasionally on tracks like Whatever Leads Me to You, “I’ve seen you with many/ and imagine they bore you/the more they give, know spoil – adore you.” There are little vague traces of everything from Chris Isaak, Dave Graney, hell even Bowie if you listen hard enough. Yet the reality is that despite it’s quite obvious stylistic reference points it’s very much O’Connor, a very personal, at times raw, but also clever and unexpected album that’s only 26 or so years too late.