More than many artists, One True Pairing's Tom Fleming is well prepared to explore the complexities of the late 2010s. After all, he already tackled many of these subjects with Wild Beasts, a band who, over the course of five albums, eloquently explored the intersection of the personal and the political. Fleming continues to examine that fraught, inescapable relationship as One True Pairing, and though the name of his solo project comes from Internet fan fiction, his self-titled debut album couldn't be more genuine. In Wild Beasts, Fleming's resounding baritone was the perfect complement to Hayden Thorpe's falsetto as they played with different aspects of sexuality and masculinity. On his own, he sounds rougher, wearier, and more direct as he digs into the ways class and gender shaped the political climate that created Brexit, as well as more timeless conflicts. To express them, he looks back, but not fondly: One True Pairing's anti-nostalgic combination of Reagan and Thatcher-era sounds -- Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, Depeche Mode -- helps him tie together nearly four decades' worth of struggle. On songs like "Blank Walls" and "I'm Not Afraid," Fleming's mingled strength and doubt echoes Springsteen's skill at connecting with, and critiquing, the idea of the everyman. The juxtapositions of artificiality and authenticity in One True Pairing's words and sounds are even more intriguing thanks to Fleming's artful use of electronics. When synths erupt behind him on "Weapons," it delivers a visceral jolt; on "Elite Companion," sleazy, penetrating tones magnify his envy and self-loathing as he mutters, "It's a long, hard climb/Just to taste your life." On each track, Fleming channels the tension that runs through relationships, whether they're between two people, as on the rare, rough-edged love song "One True Pairing" or a nation full of them, as on gritty, unbowed tracks like "Zero Summer" and "Dawn at the Factory." One True Pairing offers more compelling, complicated proof that Fleming can find new angles on topics other artists won't touch -- and shows he has even more to say on his own than he did with Wild Beasts. For both of these reasons, One True Pairing is an equally welcome return and introduction to his music.
AllMusic Review by Heather Phares