The title of Thomas D’Arcy’s second solo album, Fooled You Twice, may be self-deprecating, but it offers precisely the sort of charm and wit his fans have come to expect for the better part of the past decade, traits that have also helped forge D’Arcy’s reputation as one of Canada’s most criminally underappreciated recording artists.
Since establishing his name with Toronto bands The Carnations and Small Sins, Thomas D’Arcy has naturally transitioned into a solo career, choosing to focus on his gifts as a singer/songwriter and producer. The results on Fooled You Twice speak for themselves: it’s a flawless 10-track collection, which, at its heart, reconfirms faith in the creative possibilities of the three-minute pop song.
For the Nick Hornby types, an analogy might be imagining what would have happened if Phil Spector had produced Big Star. But such muso fantasies don’t do justice to the breadth of experience D’Arcy has channeled into Fooled You Twice. The sparkling production and infectious melodies are what’s initially attention grabbing, but underneath those elements, the songs are the pure expression of a “mature” artist, containing the full range of emotions that come with the territory, from doubt and frustration to, ultimately, hope and perseverance.
“My approach has always been trying to exist in this area where pop meets non-pop,” D’Arcy says. “I’ve written songs that have been eerie and ambient, and I’ve written songs built around shameless hooks. But the idea I keep coming back to is that whenever pop music achieves this apex of creativity and commercial viability at the same time, that’s when it becomes something special. That’s when it becomes great art.”
There’s probably no better way to describe Fooled You Twice. Opening with the meditative, Lennon-esque “Maybe I’m Wrong,” the album fully kicks into gear with the undeniably catchy first single “All Over Your Face.” The mood swings continue from there, heightening the drama of the anthemic “Stronger Tomorrow,” before concluding with the unassumingly life-affirming “Work It Out.”
The album’s cohesiveness seems all the more remarkable after hearing D’Arcy describe the sessions at his downtown Toronto studio, Taurus Recording, as essentially having a blast with old friends. These included, among others, Sloan’s Andrew Scott, The Stills’ Liam O’Neil and Tim Fletcher, Broken Social Scene’s Justin Peroff, Rusty Matyas (recently drafted into The Sheepdogs), and D’Arcy’s Small Sins collaborators Todor Kobakov and Steve Krecklo.
“Getting all those folks involved really kicked me in the ass to create a vision for this album, rather than cobbling it together from ideas I might have just worked on by myself,” D’Arcy says. “But writing and recording songs is what I and all my friends like to do, and as we get older, that becomes harder and harder to do with each other. So when the opportunities come up, we really try to make the most of them. At least I like to. There was definitely a Traveling Wilburys vibe when we were doing ‘All Over Your Face.’”
It goes without saying that every musician reaches a point where they can no longer take anything for granted, whether it’s their friendships or simply being able to make the kind of music they want to make. Thomas D’Arcy has worked hard to find his niche by staying true to his belief in the power of pop songwriting. Whether he’s doing soundtrack and commercial work, or indulging in projects such as his 2012 tribute to The Monks’ seminal Bad Habits album, D’Arcy never wavers from his opinion that the best pop music cannot be considered ephemeral or disposable.
“We’re in the middle of a pretty shit time for popular music,” he says bluntly. “I’m waiting for something to come along again that’s simultaneously artistically satisfying and commercially viable. If people view what I’m doing in those terms, then I’m happy.”