Photo Credit: Kent Tarver
It worked for Ed Sheeran, it worked for Shawn Mendes, and it worked for Tom Odell. Dean Lewis’ Australian heritage sets him apart from the rest, but apart from this not much else sets him apart from his peers. What does the late ‘80s Mercedes-Benz on the front cover represent? Hour-long, angst-ridden late-night drives which end up in the middle of nowhere where you can release all your pathetic self-pity and regret? His heart is broken, again, but at least he’s classy enough to disguise himself in nostalgic luxury. Or am I reading too much into this?
On his web page, Dean Lewis described how he got into writing songs after watching an Oasis live DVD as a teenager, and how Noel and Liam Gallagher basically taught him how to write songs (not sure if the wonderfully Britpop brothers would be too proud about that, considering their often-expressed hatred towards “Wonderwall”). It’d be easier to believe that Ed Sheeran or Shawn Mendes or pretty much any writer of generic singer-songwriter lullabies about heartbreak and tears better suited for background music than sulking would be the main source of inspiration for The Hardest Love, Dean’s second album.
Alternatively, one might think that Olivia Rodrigo’s Sour is where this album’s rooted, considering most of these songs deal with break-ups, cheaters, and denied love. And, hell, on “Heartless” even his delivery resembles Olivia’s on “traitor” or “happiness.” But where Olivia was saved by a great deal of musical variation (from piano balladry to alt-rock) and could explain her naivety with the fact that she’s not even in her twenties, listening to a 35-year-old weeping non-stop over 31 minutes and ten songs that sound almost the same is less inspiring.
“How Do I Say Goodbye” is the album’s biggest hit and the undisputed highlight of The Hardest Love, a tender love ballad written for his father as he was diagnosed with cancer back in 2019. “How do I say goodbye // to someone who’s been with me for my whole life?” he asks while giving a vocal performance that Ed Sheeran could only dream of.
If that song makes your eyes water, you’ll probably enjoy most of The Hardest Love, mainly because it sounds the same and because the runtime makes it relatively preservable. And towards the end, as he’s drying his tears and realizes it’s time to drive back home before the sun comes up and someone might – terrible thought – actually see him crying, he even offers a conclusion. “I met a girl, but she came too close // so I had to say goodbye,” he sings on “Into the Breeze,” before revealing his struggle to open his heart up and truly expose his feelings.
It’s a relevant question. Why is this so hard for so many men? Thinking of great heartache albums made by men, The Hardest Love is galaxies from Blood on the Tracks or Sea Change in terms of depth and self-reflection, but at least he’s perfectly aware of it. And “why can’t I open up my heart and fill the emptiness?” is a way more honest statement than “I want you with all your mistakes,” so maybe there’s hope for him after all, even if half of his heart “wants to give it up.”