Life in Plastic by Tom Aspaul | Album Review
Tom Aspaul’s sophomore outing gives Euro-pop glamour.
I found out about Tom through his debut album Black Country Disco. It’s pop/dance infused take on heartbreak and coming home was an invigorating listen. The autobiographical nature of each track gave a fresh take on what can be more surface level dance pop. The follow up, a queer artist infused remix album Black Country Discotheque, was a great reinvention of songs on his debut. For Aspaul’s sophomore outing, we’re going full Euro-pop. Moving forward from the disco based sound of his first album, Tom moved forward with the nostalgic sounds of his childhood:
“With this, I really wanted to move things along. Because so much of the album is me looking back at my adult life. I wanted it to have that nostalgic twinge for the ’90s and the noughties because that’s when I came of age…It did really concern me that people might think because I’m doing a europop album, that there isn’t any depth to it and something’s fundamentally gone. But if anything I’d say there’s more depth in Life in Plastic than Black Country Disco.”
The album starts out with a short prelude “Dail-Up Intro”. The ambient dial up Internet sounds and quickening tempo of the electro-pop helps to set the tone of what is to come.
“Let Them (It’s All Love)” explores the superficial nature of what Tom dubbed “disco-friends”.
“They like you because they can go for a drink with you and have fun. There is a place for people like that in your life and I’ve always appreciated people like that, but in the song ‘Let Them (It’s All Love)’, I’m not really criticising them. I’m just saying, it’s fine. It’s good to know where you stand?
We’re swept into an Mediterranean-esque dance vibe as the cool synths brake into house like beats. You’re transported into the club to dance free of the worries you have surrounding these people whose connection is weak at best. Like many of us, the notion of cutting these ties is terrifying yet necessary, “Sometimes you need take a breath/ Let it go, let it pass/ But I’m scared to death/ And what if I was wrong, oh no.” The club ready beat and anthemic “You gotta let them” that repeat will surely get you moving.
The bouncing computerized synths and sexy beats of “Kiss It” marry well with the quick lovin’ mentality of the song. The pain of heartbreak has us set on keeping deeper connections at a distance, “Cos I don’t wanna make the same mistake again/ I don’t need another boyfriend’s heart to break/ I don’t have any more time in town to waste/ So come over here and kiss it all away.” It’s honest in the need to keep no strings attached. Of course Tom has an equally sensual video to match the vibe of the song. It is nice to see these kinds of situations taken through a gay lens.
“What is Real Anymore” brings in the sound of the early 2000s. I get tastes of Darkchild’s signature synth guitar/harp sound along with a futuristic hip-hop meets house spice. Much like the sentiments of cheating taken on many Darkchild songs, we’re asking ourselves whether or not the man we’ve taken home is giving us the whole story. This is our moment to get the truth here, “When were you thinking of telling me the truth?/ You got a man and he’s watching every move/ So how’s the game when it’s played on you?/ What is real anymore?” I love throwback sound and sly stance Tom takes one the track. We get a pure dance pop banger with “Listen 2 Nichole”. As the tile alludes to, we numerous Nicole Scherzinger/Pussycat Dolls references (“Don’t Cha”, “I Don’t Need a Man”, “Poison”, “Don’t Hold Your Breath”). Nicole just happens to be is voice of reason of scrolling through the apps for any sort of male attention he can get to fill the void he’s feeling, “So many times, we’ve been here before/ So many times, I don’t learn a thing at all/ And I’m up all night scrolling through my phone/ So I turn the radio up (she’s singing)/ Don’t cha even go there/ Listen to Nicole.” I love how delightfully gay it feels. The bit of clarity through the haze of lust is great, so are the many easter eggs to Nicole’s work. “Statues” discusses the loss of friends due to breaking up over the pure club groove.
“It’s not about what team you’re on because it’s not Brad and Angelina Jolie, but it’s about the fact that it’s natural to gravitate to someone if you live in the same city as them. If someone moves away you’re going to lose touch over time. It was about the way everything seemed frozen in time in London whenever I would come back, but obviously it wasn’t, because everything had changed.”
Compared to the some of the other club fueled tracks, “Statues” sizzles into a gentle boil by the chorus. The change in guard from lovers to exes has left an irreparable rift in these friend groups, “So many late nights and mornings/ They were wasted, in every single way/ I really miss us, just talking/ But if I heard you now, heard you now/ I’d turn the other way.” Aspaul uses the euphoric rise to assure himself that these once open doors are worth closing. Although I enjoy the overall build up the song provides, it falls a bit flat in the production for me. “Wake Up In the Sun” gives me strong “Around the World (La La La La La)” by A Touch of Class vibes. By no means is it a one to one relationship, but more an interpolation of the underlying bass and chord progression. This throwback to European pop works beautifully with the sound Tom has cultivated. We’re taking this moment to transition out of the coldness we have been filling since our last heartbreak. You break free of the clouds and cold once to song erupts into the chorus, “I’m gonna wake up in the sun/ Open my eyes to the daylight/ And all the hurt will come undone/ Cos if I stay I won’t be right.” As I noted above, you get a subtle nod to “Around the World (La La La La La)” in the “Na Na Na” rhythm following the chorus’s end.
One of my favorites is the sultry “Thessaloniki”. I love the cool synth hums that underlies the nocturnal dance production. The name is taken for the Greek port town of the same name. This is probably one of the most sensual tracks on the album conjuring sea side lustful trysts. The chorus, “Thessaloniki/ You put your arms round me/ Oh Thessaloniki/ Went deep inside of me/ You saved me/ (Deepеr than before)”, could be taken literally or figuratively (more in an emotional stance). The lines of “Three lovers on a balcony/ Hoping that nobody can see” and “One day I’ll return to you/ My body yearns for you both” brings to mind three-way love scenario. Whether this be two lovers or a lover and the location they are at, I’ll leave you to be the judge. Regardless, the cool sensual tone that brings to mind the erotic tones of “Wicked Games” by Chris Issak or “Where is the Feeling” by Kylie Minogue videos is a clear winner for me.
“Millionaire” comes from a nearly ten year old demo Aspaul had held on to.
“It was a throwaway pop song about not wanting to be a flashy millionaire. That sounds really silly looking back but that’s what it was…Something about the verse in ‘Millionaire’ resonated with me considering what my situation is currently. It really rings true about how I feel about a lot of people. I’m not going to name any names, obviously, but there seems to be quite an obsession with a celebrity lifestyle and a flashy way of existing and I’m really not interested in that. I might come across as materialistic, but I feel like I’m really not a materialistic person at all.”
We get a little bit of a chilly vibe from the synth production here. As the quote above taunts, Tom is quite happy living is modest life. He ready to point out that this is elitist fast spending attitude is not how he lives his life, “You’ve been lied to/ Taken for ride/ You thought that I was like you/ Living like a m-m-millionaire.” Although the production is pristine, the lyrics feel a little unpolished compared to the other songs on the album. We end off the album on the electrifying “Effigy”. This song boils from start to finish. The effigy to haunts Tom is the ghost of his ex lover that seems to keep any other potential connections severed. Once the song’s hook of “Goes around and around and around”, the boil erupts fantastically. I appreciate the honesty he shows around the burned in emotions still left behind from the heartbreak suffered on his debut, “All the boys that fall for me every week/ Disappear when they see the effigy/ And a part of me that won’t see the truth/ Digs in deeper and deeper to try to get to you.”
Seeing Tom’s background as a songwriter, I wouldn’t have expected anything less than a beautifully polished collection of pop/dance tracks. As a nod to his love for Euro-pop, a bonus track on the album is a cover of French pop star Alizee’s “Hey! Amigo!” is included to those how downloaded the album on iTunes or purchased it on Soundcloud. Despite it’s club ready sound, it dives into many more personal feelings that Tom’s going through. On the contrast of sound to lyrical content, Aspaul told Pink News:
“Maybe that’s the reason I’ve sugarcoated it and made it so plastic sounding — because I’m so nervous to talk about these topics in a way that would be more direct. I’d be afraid of exposing myself. That’s why I’ve deflected it by making it so bright and sparkly and sexy — I’m literally in bondage gear on the album cover”
I throughly enjoyed the bulk of the tracks on the album. It’s sexy, uptempo, and wonderfully gay (the artwork alone will have you hot under the collar). There are a few moments on the record that fall a little flat for me: “Statues” and “Millionaire”. That said, the rest of the work on this record is totally worthy of multiple listens. I love the throwback sounds and nods to other Brit/Euro-pop sounds. My favorites:
- “Kiss It”
- “What is Real Anymore”
- “Wake Up In the Sun”
My overall rating: 7.0 out of 10. If it’s one thing that Tom knows how to do, it’s make a catchy pop song. If you love pop music that is club ready and a bit gay, I think you found your album to give a try.
Gay pop sensation Tom Aspaul on disco, hook-ups and whether he'd do Eurovision
Tom Aspaul was nervous when faced with the mammoth task of following up his debut album Black Country Disco. That album…