Kat Smith discusses why Palo Santo, the long-awaited sophomore album from Years & Years, deserves five stars
The long awaited second Years & Years album has finally arrived. I doubted their ability to match their debut but they have soared above it, with the three-year wait being worth every second.
Palo Santo is a mix of unpretentious pop melodies and heartfelt lyrics. In the way Communion lacked weak filler songs, every song on Years & Years’ sophomore album is a triumph. Continuing the extended religious metaphor that pervaded their first album, Palo Santo is the Spanish for ‘holy wood’, with the album containing songs named ‘Hallelujah’, ‘Sanctify’ and ‘Preacher’ amongst a plethora of lyrics.
Alexander’s sexuality is unapologetic, which feels even more powerful against the religious imagery. Often speaking openly about being gay as well as his struggles with mental health, Palo Santo doesn’t see him hiding behind a chart-topper but instead using it as a means of expression. The singles ‘If You’re Over Me’ and ‘All For You’, slot right in to their peers on the charts, proving the band’s unmistakeable ability to project Olly Alexander’s private experience onto a melody with universal appeal.
The trinity of leading singles were an accurate reflection of the album. The dark tones and sexual messages of ‘Sanctify’ aren’t hard to find between the lines. The insanely cute bop ‘If You’re Over Me’ perfectly hinted at the more upbeat songs to come.
Palo Santo is diverse without falling apart as a collection of songs. While I adore Communion, I felt the songs blur together with their similar vibes and melodies. Every song on Palo Santo has its rightful place and presents a different element. This is clearly an album about romance, and in some instances a lack of, but every area imaginable is explored. It’s not merely soppy or bitter, but instead a meaningful representative of the complexity of human relationships. From sex and lust in ‘Sanctify’, to falling for a new love in ‘Hypnotised’, to telling a closeted partner to come out in ‘Preacher’, Years & Years examine a kaleidoscope of feelings and elements within romantic relationships.
Frontman Olly Alexander’s vocals are filled with emotion in the way we’ve never heard before. Through the albums ups and downs, in the livelier ‘If You’re Over Me’ and ‘Karma’ as well as the gentle ‘Hypnotised’, we can hear the feeling in every word. The conflicting mix of anger and relief in ‘Lucky Escape’ is particularly masterful, reflecting on an unhealthy relationship and his ex’s new love.
Perhaps my only criticism is the rather cringe spoken part of ‘Rendezvous’, but that might just be my adversity to speech in songs except for samples. The rest of the song is just as wonderful as the rest of the album and maybe Alexander’s statement towards the end of the track will grow on me. Nonetheless, it’s a minor flaw in an otherwise masterful collection of music.
It may have taken years and years for the pop trio to create Palo Santo, but it has defied my expectations. Even if three more years pass before their next album, I’ll be first in line waiting with this one on repeat.