Unlike “On Hold,” the first single from The xx’s third LP in seven-plus years, the brilliance of “Say Something Loving” is more muted and less readily apparent. On first listen it has the feel of a song that could soundtrack a middling teen drama, what with Romy Madley Croft singing about “insecurities” and Oliver Sim dismissing his own neediness. But the score for Wild Child or Get Over It this one’s not.
There’s actually much to love here. The opening has Madley Croft’s voiced manipulated in a way I haven’t heard before, it’s to the point where she sounds like an expertly flipped ELO sample (I haven’t seen any detailed notes on the song, so it may well be.) Moreover, her singing in the middle of “Say Something Loving” is some of her best work. She goes from a near whisper (the default xx setting) to what passes as a shout in their world. “You’re touch stays on my skin, I feel it start sinking in, here come my insecurities, I almost expect you to leave,” she croons in an almost breathless run. The chasms between words are gone here. If it’s not Sim picking up the slack with his own entrancing voice, there’s a well-timed production flourish from Jamie xx to move the song along. Drums knock and then politely leave. The bass lines steadily pick up steam as the song crests. While “Say Something Loving” feels so unfamiliar at first, it ends as another example of the xx finely crafting an emotional stage play where each character knows their role.