“Nation of Two”
BOTTOM LINE Australian rules Americana-pop.
It’s really no wonder that Vance Joy caught Taylor Swift’s eye with his breakout single “Riptide” — its charmingly idiosyncratic storytelling lifted by pop hooks made for an easy match for her “1989” tour.
For his follow-up, “Nation of Two” (Atlantic), the Australian singer-songwriter has gone deeper and broader, making singalongs that sound even bigger, ready for the stadiums he played as Swift’s opener.
The first single “Lay It on Me” is brasher than Joy’s earlier songs, thanks to a bridge that swells as a horn section, galloping percussion and backing singers help him gather steam before a the thunderous chorus. He busts out the ukulele again for the sweet “Saturday Sun,” as he wonders about the state of his relationship, while acoustic happiness seemingly swirls all around him. “So what’s going on? ’Cause I’ve been undone,” he worries, over a sunny, fast-moving groove. “Am I still on her mind?”
That combination drives much of “Nation of Two,” where Joy has reservations, but gets swept up by the momentum of the music around him. Even on the relatively straightforward “Call If You Need Me,” Joy is surrounded by echoing percussion that should make Mumford & Sons proud.
However, Joy is still best when he’s spinning his own unique stories. “We came out of the cinema, rubbing our eyes, our mouths were dry,” he declares in the gorgeous “Bonnie & Clyde.” “We felt a little guilty about spending that whole sunny day inside.” That’s an opening that’s so specific and so literary that it makes you want to turn a page and when he pares it with more acoustic simplicity, it’s no wonder Joy made inroads with country fans as well as pop ones with his last album.
Sure, with “Nation of Two,” Joy may have lost the power of surprise, but he has replaced it with stronger songs that will stick with fans as long as “Riptide.”