Conan Gray – ‘Found Heaven’ review: seeking solace from heartbreak in ’80s pop

Conan Gray – ‘Found Heaven’ review: seeking solace from heartbreak in ’80s pop

Conan Gray, thus far, has existed as the quintessential popstar for his generation. From his career beginnings as a YouTube vlogger to the distinctly Gen Z brand of whisper-pop that littered his first two records, he’s consistently carried a subdued torch for his chronically online cohort through his dramatic musings on unrequited love and adolescent angst. Yet, when the drama and chaos of his inaugural heartbreak ensued, he shunned the Y2K aesthetics punctuating the moodboards of his peers and decided to embrace the ‘80s, along with all the bombast it has to offer.

Though perhaps one of the year’s most ambitious pop albums, it was Gray’s first time delving into ’80s music and, at times, his post-breakup playlist is all too evident. Album opener and title track ‘Found Heaven’ is defined by Queen-indebted harmonies and ‘Lonely Dancers’ seems to be a modern-day take on Men Without Hat’s ‘The Safety Dance’, both in his deadpan vocal delivery (which occasionally gives way to moments reminiscent of ‘Thriller’-era Michael Jackson) and glitchy synths. Elsewhere, ‘Eye Of The Night’ draws distinct parallels to Bon Jovi’s ‘You Give Love A Bad Name’.

Yet there are real highs that emerge through his own interpretation of the decade. ‘Never Ending Song’, and ‘Fainted Love’ are both examples of maximalist pop perfection, only enhanced by Gray’s modern outlook. ‘Alley Rose’, a theatrical heartache ballad in the key of Elton John, emerges as the record’s clear standout: rich in melodramatic strings, it sees Gray wandering the London streets he was dumped on, a crucial detail given the British accent he occasionally adopts throughout. The one change in tone is ‘Bourgeoisieses’, where he takes a break from dwelling on heartache to poke fun at a rich upper class, painting himself as a “low class guy” with a Gatsby-esque urge to party among them. It’s a bizarre twist and an interesting take from a 25-year-old millionaire, but catchy nonetheless.

Though not solely a breakup album, ‘Found Heaven’ still carefully documents the feverish early stages of falling in love to its tragic demise. The unravelling of control coincided with a period of sickness for Gray, evident in the moodier direction the record takes in its second half. But it doesn’t mean fun is abandoned, just that more piano is deployed, with the most vulnerable moment occurring within the closer ‘Winner’, where Gray addresses the scars left by his childhood, solemnly singing “I was only tryin’ to survive your chaos/Well, look at how it’s paid off.”

Gray’s newfound penchant for ’80s pop doesn’t come with a notion of irony – he’s fully embracing even the era’s most ostentatious elements. But despite his own sincerity, there are moments that drift closer towards a caricature of the era than a true homage to the decade’s most innovative pop. Yet for all its pitfalls, ‘Found Heaven’ is a record where Gray emerges without fear of love, pain or an unwavering commitment to the bit. On prior albums, romance existed as a mythical object always slightly out of his reach, yet here he speaks from the other side, having been moulded by it forever. “I aint sorry/I wouldn’t change a thing”, he sings on ‘Forever With Me’, finding joy within heartbreak and strength in the revelation of how much he can truly feel. So maybe as an album it carries all the nuance of a Best Of The Decade compilation, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t fun. After all, it’s the ‘best of’ for a reason.


Conan Gray ‘Found Heaven’ album artwork. Credit: PRESS

Release date: April 5, 2024
Record label: Republic

The post Conan Gray – ‘Found Heaven’ review: seeking solace from heartbreak in ’80s pop appeared first on NME.

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