From opener 'Fleece On The Brain', the emphasis on the voice, the message. It's apparent Dear has spent a considerable slice of the past 48 months - well, the time he had left after making music as Audion, False and Jabberjaw - thinking and learning about song structure. As a result, he wears some of his influences a little too candidly. And the study hasn't been a total success. The hazy 'Deserter' – lovely as it is – is something of an odd choice for a lead single: the charmingly naïve lyrics are eclipsed by most others here. Or maybe that's the point? A fool in love… Other outings are either surprisingly revealing or pointedly complex, he blows hot and cold. On the searching 'Give Me More', he offers "There's a big hole in my life"; on the bluesy stomp 'Midnight Lovers' the couplet "I can see the future shine/this is the beginning of time" sound like an optimistic enough view on a relationship, but given his pained yelp of a delivery, you can't be sure." Over the brilliant syncopated stabs and tight snares on 'Don and Sheri', we hear his half of an argument: he snipes and spits at an unknown victim, before culminating in an angry "my name doesn't change very often/but it's never been Don and Cheri". Daft rows never sound this good in my house. 'Pom Pom' sums up the problem: "I've got to figure out love ".
Dear's vocal is not the strongest, but he plays it well: sometimes it's a bit Bowie, sometimes a country drawl; sometimes it's propped up by double- or triple-tracking, sometimes aided by more complex studio devices. But his self-consciously schizophrenic approach suits the shifting lyrical narrative – and indeed the sonic sprawl. 'Asa Breed' flits between a delightfully varied range of styles: from Talking Heads-influenced flirtations with world music ('Elementary Lover', 'Shy') to strutting, summery pop (the deceptively chipper 'Pom Pom', 'Death To Feelers') and a couple of punchy, precise micro-house jaunts, before staggering to a downbeat, downcast close with 'Give Me More' and 'Midnight Lovers'. And just when you think you have him figured out (sort of), he closes with 'Good To Be Alive', the hiccupping structure, clattering toms and spiraling synths recalling his Audion material. And that's before the Johnny Cash-aping hidden track.
Three key things hold this bursting-at-the-seams record together (and it could easily have been one that fell apart): Dear's distinctive production style; his increased belief in his songwriting ability, and subsequently, the brevity of the songs: most clock in around the three-minute mark. And it fits perfectly: this is a pop record, and a very fine one at that.