by ELI KEITH
On Friday, Oct. 14, American multi-instrumentalist Louis Cole released “Quality Over Opinion,” his sixth studio album.
As the name suggests, Cole’s focus for this album is unapologetically and intensely orchestrated. In the biography on his Spotify artist page, Cole claims “people describe his sound as searing,” and this, for better or for worse, is true.
“I would like to use every shred of spirit I have in this life and every other, too hard on myself,” Cole says in the opening and titular song for the album. “Song” is a term used loosely here, as all the lyrics are hurriedly spoken as unnerving strings fade in and out. While this song functions as the introduction to the real meat of Cole’s project, and perhaps adequately sets the tone for what is to come, it is not a pleasant track. The question, then, is whether Cole cares about that or not—the album title sure claims he doesn’t.
You have to respect Cole’s approach to his music. As he told Kitty Richardson for her 2019 article for The Line of Best Fit, he “never [tries] to make [his] music more accessible to anyone,” which is a fact made ever-more daunting as the scope of Cole’s talents become apparent. He comes from a musical family and has been playing drums, keyboard, guitar and bass, as well as singing, for the majority of his life. It is from this background that listeners can begin to theorize what kind of quality Cole is pursuing.
“Dead Inside Shuffle” and “Not Needed Anymore” are the second and third songs on the album, respectively, and they are certainly much more enjoyable than the introductory tune. Furthermore, Cole is a titillating dancer, as can be seen in the music video for “I’m Tight,” and he clearly has that in mind when creating his music. When “I’m Tight” was released as a single prior to the album drop, he successfully infused danceable beats and catchy rhythms, making us listeners want to dance along with him.
Cole’s shortcomings on this album are well documented in the song “Shallow Laughter.” It would be acceptable if songs such as this one were simply diversions from the jazz-pop style of the previous songs, but “Shallow Laughter” never fully develops. Cole’s high pitched wavering and shimmering like distant sirens may be tempting or superficially beautiful, but it merely stirs up unease, never fully realizing neither a satisfying melody nor a beat.
“Bitches” is the fifth song on the album, grinding out of speakers and insisting on the unapologetic nature of Cole’s latest music through nonstop drums and electronic mixing accompanied by a wild saxophone. Cole’s moments of redemption—if indeed he needs redeeming—are well timed in examples such as “Message,” the sixth song on the album, which is a gentle and slower revelation of brooding emotion that listeners do not get until this moment. “I let it happen, let it be, with pain secretly, just another little mystery,” Cole sings softly. This album is as emotionally variable as one could hope for; it loses ground in its sharp turns that result more in discombobulation than artistic juxtaposition.
Cole’s failure to fit these songs into a single home in which they belong is at its most egregious with “Failing in a Cool Way” and “Disappear.” Both songs are delectably indulgent, yet in such different ways that one questions what Cole’s vision for the album as a unit of art is. Historically, albums are considered successful when their songs collectively achieve a theme or message that can speak for the entire album, but Cole’s is a sporadic presentation that pits some of the most agreeable music against tracks with the most stylistically unusual and polarizing assemblies.
The immensely danceable and seven-minute feast “I’m Tight” comes at the near-halfway point of the album, followed pleasantly by “True Love,” which defines the titular phenomenon as “messed up especially when you feel it all the way.” The song itself has a dreamy feeling that elicits the feeling of sparkling yet dwindling love. Like a pool being sucked away by the sun, it creates an image both beautiful and sad.
Of course, we know this album well enough by now to expect a funky electronic beat right off the heels of that heartbreaker. “Planet X” is as alien as the name suggests, and while I say with confidence that this album fails in any effort towards cohesion, “Planet X” stands as one of many impressive individual acts; perhaps when it comes to “Quality Over Opinion,” the bar for success lies more in each song’s individual contribution to the diverse whole.
Two shorter songs, “Let Me Snack” and “Forgetting,” come and go inconsequentially, neither notably bad nor notably good. Multiple listens of this album have led me to conclude that this may be a good one to shuffle due to its wide range of types of songs, and these two can be fruitful for such endeavors.
Cole asks his addressee to “Park Your Car On My Face” in one of his characteristically sexual songs; this one is particularly packed with innuendo. Next comes the tame and forgettable “Don’t Care,” followed by more R&B-infused “Laughing in Her Sleep,” which incorporates smoothly layered and separately recorded harmonies by Cole himself. “Outer Moat Behavior” once again ramps up the pace in a short burst of a song that shifts away from the more methodical and sung tunes, but it functions almost as an interlude, and—at under two minutes in length—it can also be seen as a bridge for the entire album, transitioning into the final act.
“When” and “Let it Happen” take up eleven of the final thirteen minutes of the album, and these two songs truly are an ascent out of the beat-and-grind jarring nature of some of the album’s earlier material. Those songs aren’t necessarily worse… but they are if you ask me. Truthfully, I say that only because Cole’s talents are most enjoyable in his orchestral and galactically decorated songs that feature his delicate voice in complement with his terrific instrumentation. The instrumental “Little Piano Thing,” which finishes the album, reveals the depth into which Cole could explore this softer side of his music, but I wonder if he will ever aim to. As an artist whose goal is to never alter his music for the sake of his audience’s listening pleasure, Cole’s fans will have to settle for preparing themselves for whatever avenue—or alley—he takes them down next.