“It took me about a year to decide if I wanted to move forward with this project or not, as it is quite a sonic departure,” Josh Rouse confided during my recent interview with the accomplished singer-songwriter. “This project,” of course, is his latest long player Love In The Modern Age, his twelfth studio album in twenty years, dating back to his debut effort Dressed Up Like Nebraska (1998). Thankfully, his decision to ultimately embrace this creative adventure pays plenty of dividends for his loyal legion of listeners.
Despite the title’s nod to contemporary times, the prevailing sonic framework for the nine-song strong affair is actually largely indebted to a musical movement that surfaced decades ago, namely the synth-pop aesthetic that came to prominence as the 1980s progressed. Lyrically, Rouse is as poised and as poignant as he’s ever been, taking a few inspirational cues from pop’s late great poet laureate, Leonard Cohen. Love In The Modern Age is indeed a more experimental departure for Rouse, relative to his discography to date. But thanks to his proven penchant for marrying memorable melodies to accessible narratives, the album serves more as an expansion of his still-evolving recorded repertoire, rather than a disruption to his artistic arc.
As we’ve come to expect with Rouse’s albums, highlights are in no short supply, beginning here with the soaring opening song “Salton Sea,” which sets the stage for the nuanced soundscapes that appear throughout. Plentiful drum machine-blessed percussion awash with synth and organ-heavy flourishes coalesce with subtle, vocoder-like vocal manipulations and Rouse’s soothing tones, producing a track that couldn’t be easier on the ears. Equally intriguing is the titular “Love In The Modern Age,” a multi-layered, gorgeously constructed composition propelled by Rouse’s spoken-word musings that summon Cohen’s world-weary wisdom. Not to mention that saxophone!
Known for crafting songs that are introspective and personal, yet also universally relatable, Rouse weaves a familiar lament that examines how our professional lives invariably undermine our personal commitments in “Businessman,” singing with measured resignation, “I wanna be with you, baby / But you know that I can’t / I’m a businessman / I’m working hard for you, baby / In New York and Japan / I’m a businessman.” On a more redemptive note, the endearing album closer “There Was A Time” unfurls as a wistful, reflective assessment of how life changes when one finds true love and by extension, the satisfaction and comfort that was previously elusive or ephemeral.
Additional highlights include the sun-kissed shimmer of “Hugs And Kisses,” the light and airy “I’m Your Man” (another nod to Mr. Cohen, referencing both his 1988 album and Sylvie Simmons’ 2013 biography of the same name), and the laid-back, lounge-like “Ordinary People, Ordinary Lives,” which offers a voyeuristic view into the routinized monotony of the human condition.
If you prefer your music to sound amazing from beginning to end, well, then look no further than Love In The Modern Age. It’s an essential, highly enjoyable—and relatively speaking, eccentric—new entry to Rouse’s sterling discography to date.