Australian pop star Dean Lewis is back with a new album for listeners to enjoy, to the delight of listeners worldwide. The 34-year-old singer first captured widespread attention with his 2016 hits, ‘Be Alright’ and ‘7 Years’ though some singles preceded these. This week, his sophomore album, The Hardest Love has dropped, and it’s a rollercoaster of emotions – let’s break it down together.
Admitting that they’re primarily about one girl, the album is a haze of heartbreak, tumultuous times, and relatability. Made during the pandemic, he openly acknowledges in a recent interview the difference The Hardest Love has made sonically and productively – having been in the driving seat as sole songwriter and producer at once. While this may prove challenging for some, the 10-track record comes across as a triumph rather than a tribulation in all the ways that matter.
As a result of the pandemic, Dean acknowledges that time has been on his side during creation, resulting in a finely tuned second album that he is very proud of. The cover is in a way, a visual motif of this, Dean centered in a car with nature in both the foreground and background. Bringing in autumnal hues combined with spring blooms and summer greenery, viewers get the sense that The Hardest Love is a progressive album that transcends time, feelings and seasons.
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The Hardest Love opens with ‘Small Disasters,’ a slow, metaphoric and rhythmic track exploring the safer parts of experiencing life with someone before it slowly falls apart in a string of unstoppable events – like tiny natural disasters on a catastrophic slope. Dean sings, ‘I’d give it all, just to feel something real’ and the pain of memory is evident in his voice. Starting quietly with a series of almost twangy notes, the song builds into an intense crescendo by the bridge, with Lewis comparing the experience to ‘movies drained of color.’ It’s a moving opening and effortlessly sets up the tone for the album as the track ends, both in subject matter and pace.
‘Looks Like Me’ was the first preview fans received from the album in October. It’s a breakdown of a single experience turned raw and experimental, exploring the pain of wanting to be with someone who isn’t open to reciprocation but continues to entertain the idea, causing further wounds. The instrumentals, particularly in the opening chords, mean the song comes across initially as optimistic and dancey, but like so much of Dean’s music, the lyrics provide listeners with a paradoxical narrative.
After ‘Looks Like Me’ listeners are treated to the title track. It’s a song that builds from a quietened whisper to a visceral brass finale by the end. It’s a track that feels simultaneously warm yet nostalgic, as it’s presented through a romantic lens while incorporating phrases like ‘I remember’ in the second chorus. The song’s tense and intense sense of memory through specifically referenced experiences make it a moving piece while providing a relatably empathetic view on an only-year-long but meaningful relationship.
Fans also get a feature from recently released ‘Hurtless,’ a journey through the emotions of realizing the person you love has shared themselves with another. An almost instant 20-million streaming hit, for many it’s crushingly familiar, and another super-catchy track. It’s easy to hear the pain in Dean’s voice as he captures one of life’s most crushing experiences facilely, and with a soulful ease.
But the tone changes dramatically with the progression to ‘All For You.’ A strong centerpiece to an album that predominantly focuses on more heart-wrenching topics, it’s a piece that was written in the heat of what Dean defined as a long distance relationship while on tour. The song is expressive of wanting that someone special with everything you possess, including their insecurities and flaws, and is powerful yet empathetic, with Dean singing, ‘I’ll love you until my heart breaks.’ It’s the kind of song that’s reminiscent of when you want to chase someone to the ends of the earth, and one of the more hopeful moments.
One of the most poignant tracks on the album, ‘How Do I Say Goodbye’ is one of the few that doesn’t play out with a romantic central theme, rather focusing on parental-child relationships. Created in the wake of Dean facing the potential loss of a parent, it’s a story that is far happier in real life than in the music. Hitting millions of streams, it’s become a viral Tiktok trend through which fans share their own moving moments of hardship and grief on the platform, using the tune as a defining background. It’s a multifaceted track – with the ability to tug at heartstrings almost incomparably, bring people together through the expression of universal experiences, and make people reflect on life’s fragility.
‘Scares Me’ is another piece that follows the same vulnerability thread traced through the entire record. An ode to falling in love when the circumstances change and confusion is rife in the hearts of both lovers, the uncertainty mingling. It’s an uneasy but decisive surrender that comes across as reflective. It’s definitely not one of the album’s more optimistic pieces, but it has a way of cutting to heartstrings in different forms. Like so many songwriters, Lewis’ predominant focus on interpersonal relationships makes it simple to experience the same emotions when listening that he did while creating the music.
Transitioning to ‘Something to Help’, listeners get a collaboratively written track in the form of a comparative, passionate moment. It was written alongside American writer Tyler Johnson, who has recently spent time writing for pop superstar Harry Styles, on his recent album Harry’s House. ‘Something to Help’ is fast-paced from the beginning, and only becomes more so as the song continues, providing listeners with a decisive and welcome beat change from some of the earlier tracks.
Dean noted recently that he wants his music to sound raw but equally complete. Track nine, entitled ‘Into the Breeze, ’ effortlessly achieves both of these objectives, diving deep into acknowledging personal flaws and the complexities of the human mind when first leaning into the tender susceptibility of loving. Scattered throughout with natural symbolism, the birds and the breeze are the most heavily referenced. ‘Into the Breeze’ feels more like the conclusive phase of a relationship, when one’s intimate struggles become more of a catalyst for an ending in the words. With the pondering, almost hopeless lyrics, ‘I guess happiness is in some dream’ the track is a great way to end a storyline that has traced the lines of love from the beginning to a potentially devastating end – but it’s not over yet.
We then progress to the closing track, ‘To Have You Today.’ It comes across as more heartwarming than heartbreaking, with the lyrics addressing what seems to be a date frozen in time, just two people and a beautiful view. It’s one of the softer, more uplifting tracks in lyricism and instrumentals, and it’s a tender, emotionally nourishing conclusion to The Hardest Love.