Dean Ford's new EP, Ctrl, is six songs, just under 20 minutes. Dean Ford's last EP, Deaf. Dumb. In Love., was six songs, right around 20 minutes. That's pretty much where the similarities end.
With this release, the kid who's been proving his pop songwriting bonafides since he was 16 is finally all in. The promise that Ford's Goodnight Process showed was infused with irony and subterfuge — that's not pop. It's playing with pop. And the '60s vamp from last time around was poppy, but it was throwback, nostalgic pop. There were, like, instruments being played.
I love that "Come on Say" song, but it was like Paul McCartney doing a Jamiroquai cover.
Ctrl is the stuff you see priced on iTunes for $1.29 for no good reason at all, with beats like Timbaland pumps out and no real hint of those lame old analog instruments anywhere. It's right now, with maybe a little bit of tomorrow thrown in.
That sounds terrible to many of you, the ones who bemoan the cult of Ke$ha and can't tell whether that Katy Gaga tribute act is serious or not. But what exactly are people supposed to listen to in the clubs when they're all fired up on Red Bulls and vodka? Sure, those beats are nice, but circles of chicks (there are probably some guys, too) like to sing along at the tops of their voices when they're getting sweaty, I can assure you.
Ford is now ready to supply their anthems. It's not that the themes have changed much — it's still guy-girl, mating ritual stuff — just the delivery. Not only has Ford found a pocket of easy confidence (helped maybe by his voice dropping a bit more), but he's paired that with utterly contemporary production, full of driving beats, chirping synthesizers, and crisp finishes that just beg for a dramatic hand raised in the air on the stage of American Idol.
Speaking of: I've heard comparisons to Adam Lambert for the new Ford incarnation, but to me he's way more Blake Lewis, without any of Lambert's faux tough-guy routine, and much more of that Simon LeBon androgynous sex appeal.
Seriously, "It's the Feeling" wouldn't sound totally out of place on Rio, except instead of dancing on the sand, "if love is what you're looking for/Drink up and lose it on the floor/Let's dance, like we don't give a fuck." (Actually, he phases that last word into about seven syllables, so it might even pass FCC muster. Hard to say.) Regardless, it's so commercial it makes my teeth hurt. If the Q doesn't eat this up I'll eat my hat. Ford's one-note falsetto in the chorus is delicious.
"Follow My Lead" is built around the big bounce, thrilling the way pop is supposed to be, something you can completely lose yourself in. Where lots of pretenders fail here is in thinking the whole song needs to be huge. Ford, a songwriting student, understands the need for dynamic changes in volume and energy, the value of a great bridge, knowing when too much repetition is too much.