Secret Codes and Battleships sees Darren Hayes return from a four-year break with his signature glossiness, passion for melody and aura of hushed drama. It’s a record dark and naive in equal part, and full of necessary indulgence; in expelling his demons, every sentiment and situation has the contrast turned up.
This is an album designed for Hayes’ howling melisma and strained falsetto. So far, so un-fun – but for all of the singer’s desperation, the songs are thankfully not without moments of euphoria. Some 14 years after Savage Garden’s arrival, Hayes’ path has left the glorious soft-rock schmaltz behind for a discography of edgier, sequenced sounds and personal revelation. Here, he sets off on a well-trodden track – finding triumph in desperation and catharsis in songwriting, to impressive avail.
Disconnect is the theme of Secret Codes and Battleships, an album contrastingly set in the context of a happy five-year-long marriage. While some of the analogies – such as Taken by the Sea’s "I am an island, you are the ocean" – induce a lasting grimace, there’s a touching humility running through proceedings. While not an entirely new consideration for Hayes (listen back to Strange Relationship, from his debut solo album Spin), it’s a relieving realisation, despite its indulgence.
Producers Walter Afanasieff and Carl Falk have been brought on board to throw Hayes straight back into the pop world he sprang from, and as such the gloss and sharpness of this record is remarkable; the instrumentation is rich, and the choruses consistently bright and colossal. The main misfires are the over-earnest God Walking Into the Room and Hurt, which aims for Coldplay’s syncopated grandiosity but instead simpers away into the tracklisting.
Talk Talk Talk’s compressed synths and kaleidoscopic middle-eight strive studiously towards the frantic laments of Confessions on a Dancefloor-era Madonna. Black Out the Sun, meanwhile, continues where Talk Talk Talk departs – it’s bruised and delicate but never final, the sad continuation of a communication gap set against an exultant backing.
Hayes mostly knows what suits him, which is fortunate for all involved; feelings are exaggerated throughout, rewarding long-term fans’ patience with an album so very human and imperfect, an unshielded account of both personal and universal emotions. But the mastery comprises something bigger and harder to come by – Darren Hayes’ songs quite marvellously manage a balance between sharp observations and out-and-out effortless melodies. --Natalie Shaw
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