“Been living with HIV since 17/ Am I hideous?” Even in today’s pop climate, where disclosure of mental and physical ailments is almost demanded, the xx singer Oliver Sim’s directness on Hideous is devastating. Partly because we expect xx members to be taciturn, vague, less explicit, but also due to a rawness in his singing, a strength and fragility he has rarely hinted at before. Nothing else on his solo debut is as powerful – Sim isn’t always the most compelling presence in the xx, and so it proves here. Yet with genius bandmate Jamie xx producing an entire album for the first time since 2017, Hideous Bastard is always an intriguing listen.
Sim is gently overcoming his natural reticence, and you feel the weight, on Fruit, of his first use of male pronouns to describe a lover. Yet, apart from a goosebump-raising falsetto from Jimmy Somerville, there are no other voices except samples and Sim himself. Even in the ingenious vocal hall of mirrors on GMT, you slightly miss Romy’s harmonies and their chilly caress. Sim has said this record is inspired by horror films… well, this adds welcome colour to the xx cinematic universe, but it’s no blockbuster.