Dev Hynes – recording under his latest moniker, Blood Orange – has set out to capture the spirit of the streets of New York in his latest album, “Cupid Deluxe.” By combining musical influences from the ’80s with innovative, forward-thinking pop, the album embodies the feel of the city – where anything and everything can happen after sundown – with style and poise.
The U.K.-born musician has been able to capture the city in a way that only an outsider can. With a style that hearkens back to the soulful, sultry R&B sound of a previous generation, the thematic content of Hynes’ songs tends to deal with romantic relationships and sexual situations. Though it definitely has a broad appeal, “Cupid Deluxe” specifically speaks to the experiences of members of the LGBTQ community through Hynes’ stated appreciation of New York City’s gay culture.
The album focuses on love and lust through various atypical narrative voices. Indeed, significant parts of the album appear to be told from the perspective of a drag queen or perhaps a transgender individual. Hynes has an obvious admiration for ’80s New York drag culture – something that is evident not only in his music, but also in the album art, which depicts a man wearing yellow heels, a light blue bikini and a white masquerade-type mask. Throughout the record, Hynes relates the struggle of these marginalized groups to his own. Growing up in England, Hynes, although straight, was bullied because of the way he dressed and for having gay friends. In one of the stronger tracks on the album, “Uncle Ace” – a glam and disco fusion right out of a high-end fashion show – Hynes’ connection to the LGBTQ community is pronounced and clear.
The title “Uncle Ace” comes from the nickname given to the ACE line of the New York City subway, where many homeless adolescents – a large number of whom are homosexual – seek shelter. The song describes a narrator shedding his or her own inhibitions and finding someone to take home. The identity of the narrator is purposefully ambiguous – although the song is sung by Hynes, lyrics such as “Not like the other girls” portray the speaker as either female or transgendered. This indistinct voice once again showcases Hynes’ ability to normalize and humanize the plight of the LGBTQ community in New York, as he pays homage to a collective culture that is so often exaggerated, ridiculed and mocked.
Hynes’ singing also contributes to the confusing sexual identity of the narrator. His voice alternates between his normal tenor and a higher-pitched quasi-falsetto. This creates an androgynous persona that Hynes expertly layers over deft musical production. Known predominately as a producer – Hynes has created songs for Sky Ferreira, Solange Knowles and The Chemical Brothers – it comes as no surprise that the album has sonic flow and effortless continuity.
“Cupid Deluxe” elicits a nostalgic feel while avoiding overly indulgent samples and gimmicks. Such polished production is best exemplified in the song “Always Let U Down,” where Dev takes a back seat and allows for some of the impressive guest musicians featured on the album to take the lead.
“Cupid Deluxe” is the strongest work the 27-year-old Hynes has released to date. That being said, it is not a perfect work. Although the album has a strong beginning and ending, there is a clear slump in the middle. The tracks that fall in this awkward limbo lack the same allure of the opening numbers and fall flat when compared to the rest of “Cupid Deluxe.” Regardless, “Cupid Deluxe” proves that Hynes has the talent to become a major force in pop – not just as a producer, but as a musician in his own right.