Sean John Donnelly – SJD to the musical world – has quietly become one of NZ’s key musicians of the 21st century.
His new album ‘Sweetheart,’ completed and recorded after the first 2020 lockdown, references the current and universal themes of isolation, loneliness and depression. ‘Sweetheart’ is an album of two halves – one half influenced by synthpop (the ‘sweet’ side), and the other from a singer-songwriter perspective (the ‘heart’ side).
The first half kicks off with upbeat My Exploding Head, a fiery duet with Tami Neilson, and ends with You Are The Movement, which shimmers like the synth-pop disco gem it is. While the first half of the record is excellent, the second half is arguably better – the bluesy Waterhole has a phenomenal call-and-response chorus, while The Midas Glove recalls the delightfully off-kilter early 1970s work by Paul McCartney. It’s here that Donnelly is firing on all cylinders.
There are many familiar voices on the album other than Donnelly and Neilson, as Julia Deans, Don McGlashan, Sandy Mill, Anika Moa and Madeline Bradley, EJ Barnes and James Milne appear in the mix. Donnelly has referred to ‘Sweetheart’ as a chocolate box album – one with lots of different bittersweet, tough exteriors and sweet centres.
If you continue that metaphor, each song is a lovely treat, and a tasty surprise. ‘Sweetheart’ is a delight, and the best album SJD has made to date.