Simon Curtis is a shining example that when you study pop music and are an avid fan of it, the knowledge you learn of the inner workings of pop will work to your advantage in creating top tier music. In 2010, Curtis released his debut, 8Bit Heart, for free. It was recorded, mixed and mastered in a tiny basement in the hills of West Virginia. The best part? You’d never know this album wasn’t produced in a multi-million dollar studio. 8Bit Heart is such an astonishingly polished and spectacular debut, that the fact it was released for free proves Simon’s true love is in his craft, rather than pleasing a record label or fitting a mainstream mold.
This is a review of the original album, 8Bit Heart, which you can still download, for free, here. It should be noted that in January of 2016, Curtis re-released the album as Super 8-Bit Heart, featuring remastered and reworked edits of the songs. That version is available on iTunes here.
The concept for 8Bit Heart sees Simon as the Boy Robot, and only through true love could the Boy Robot become real. Taking from Nat King Cole’s “Nature Boy”, “Boy Robot” ponders humanity’s struggles: “For what could be more simple than to love and be loved in return?” Curtis would later come out openly as gay, and re-listening to 8Bit Heart (admittedly for probably the hundredth time), the lyrics take on a new meaning when you consider the inner dialogue Simon and countless other gay youth had in 2010, struggling not only to accept who they were but to have society accept them as well. It’s not just Simon’s infectious and perfectly crafted dance beats that appeal to the gay community; they are the cherry on top of his relatable lyrics.
As “Boy Robot” introduces listeners to Simon’s persona, “Don’t Wanna Be Alone” builds on the introduction and immediately throws you into Simon’s world, a utopia where love, dancing, and acceptance are never-ending. “Don’t Wanna Be Alone” presents heartfelt lyrics about longing to find a love that is sincere in a world where people are constantly looking to hook up (but only if you’re within a five mile radius.) Through the pain, Curtis dances his cares away.
Love is nowhere to be found for the Boy Robot on “Fell In Love w/an Android”, as Curtis continues his quest to not be alone, but ends up with a lover that is all style and no substance. “I just wanted to see if, my lust would be enough, to get me over…your complete lack of substance,” Curtis confesses on the track. “Fell in love with an Android baby, playing games with a toy that played me.” We’ve all been there Simon.
For the character of the Boy Robot, things only get worse on “Super Psycho Love”, but sonically, 8Bit Heart continues to reach new heights. A dark beat conjures up Egyptian imagery as Curtis becomes mesmerized by a snake. “If you don’t wanna be something substantial with me, then why do you give me more?” Curtis’ lyrics read as a bible to the forlorn hopeless romantics in a society of noncommittal, oversexed and under-loved youth.
On the extremely clever and infectious “Diablo”, the lovable Boy Robot turns on his heels and is taking back his power, choosing to call it like he sees it and no longer tolerate being treated poorly. Curtis’ passion for pop music shines on “Diablo” as his pays homage with the lyric “Here’s the thing, yeah we started out friends, but this is not a Kelly Clarkson song, and not how it ends” and later to Britney Spears’ “If You Seek Amy”: “Oh baby, baby, does she take a piece of lime for the drink that I’ma buy her? Oh wait this song isn’t mine!” “Diablo” pulses and pounds, venting Curtis’ frustration with an ex on this piece of pure pop perfection.
Things begin to turn around for the story of Boy Robot on “Delusional”, although with an album full of nonstop bangers, “Delusional” hasn’t aged quite as nicely as the other tracks. I remember this being my favorite off the album in 2010, but the production is a bit dated in 2016. (This appears to be something Curtis also realized; the reworking of “Delusional” on Super 8-Bit Heart is sublime, and the track benefits from the new production, and especially from the fact that Curtis’ vocals have new clarity.)
8Bit Heart soars even higher on the track “Joystick”, an unabashedly sexual and geeky track. How Curtis manages to make such sexual innuendo out of gaming consoles and joysticks is beyond me, but every single second of “Joystick” is genius. “Joystick” is almost as perfect as “Flesh”, an insanely sexual track off his sophomore effort, 2011’s RA. To call “Joystick” any less than “Flesh” is really splitting hairs though; Curtis is at his finest when he is owning his sexuality and making music to listen to while you have steamy sex. What would the Boy Robot think of all the times “Joystick” has been played in the background of some Grindr hookups? Uh oh.
Curtis’ genius reverence for pop is at its finest on “Beat Drop”, a song all about enjoying and celebrating music. Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance gets a name drop, and Curtis cleverly changes the lyrics on the song’s chorus, counting each time he tells the DJ to drop the beat and play some band. Words can’t do justice for how wonderful tracks like “Joystick” and “Beat Drop” are; 8Bit Heart and Curtis as a musician are so underrated that it begins to feel painful to ponder why the world hasn’t fully realized his greatness.
The Boy Robot takes a backseat on “Brainwash”, a track with Ro Danishei (who Curtis would later work together with, forming Wrathschild. Danishei would later go solo as Bad w0lfy.) Like “Delusional”, “Brainwash” doesn’t hold up to the test of time quite as well as the rest of 8Bit Heart, but this is also remedied on Super 8-Bit Heart. The addition of a pounding bass and other slight 8-Bit tweaks make the track, which lyrically feels less at place with the rest of 8Bit Heart, feel more at home.
Curtis is joined by Jay-Z on “The Dark”, 8Bit Heart‘s slowest track that serves to wind the album down as it draws to a close. Luckily for the Boy Robot, an epiphany has dawned as the album concludes with “Victory” and Curtis realizes that is it not another’s love that matters as much as the love inside him. May listening to 8Bit Heart have the same effect on you.
8Bit Heart is nothing short of pop perfection. Simon Curtis is an artist with multiple talents, and his latest work builds on his character of the Boy Robot. His first novel, aptly titled Boy Robot will be released October of this year. You can pre-order it on Amazon here. Download 8Bit Heart for free here, and keep up with Simon on Twitter. Check back later to POParazzi for reviews of Simon’s other albums, RA and WWW and rejoice in the fact that in addition to his book, he’s working on new music, too!