14 May 2016

M83 - Junk

I have no idea why I am picking this album up; I guess I am just needing to listen to a record that I picked or a change or something.  It certainly is not for the cover; it is one of the worst cover I have seen in ages.  But they have called their album junk....  The "they" in question are French electronic band M83, here with their seventh studio album.  For a lot of people in the UK M83 are mostly associated with the TV show 'Made in Chelsea' which uses their song "Midnight City" as the theme tune, which was taken from the album 'Hurry Up, We're Dreaming'.  They also created the music for the Tom Cruise film 'Oblivion', as well as supplying songs for 'Divergence', Gossip Girl, 'Under The Done' amongst others TV shows and soundtracks.  I first came across them with the song "We Own the Sky" from the album 'Saturdays=Youth', it was a great piece of dream pop which I still adore to this day.  I also think "Midnight City" is one of the best songs I have heard for many years, but I have never been big on their albums; there has always been something missing for me and I can never put my finger on it.  This is the first album that Anthony Gonzalez has released since Morgan Bibby left the band, so it is him in full flight and on his own.  Well, it is time to see if 'Junk' breaks the cycle or if it lives up to its title.

Starting the album is the first song to be released from this album - "Do It, Try It" which has an off-kilt keyboard that reminds me of early 1990's UK rave music, when the drum & bass kick in sound a little clunky in places and whilst it does have some beautiful passages as you would expect from M83 towards the end, it takes too long actually getting there for the payoff to be worth it.  Second track "Go" features guest performances by Mai Lan and an uncredited guitar appearance by Steve Vai, who is a man I admire and respect.  But I would not really be able to tell this was Zappa's little Italian virtuoso for the most part, but that solo is still a high point for the me on this song which confuses me a bit.  I am not sure if they are trying to sound 80's retro, Daft Punk/Air clones or give the world another chill out session where the slow dance and happy dance crowd can co-exist in harmony.  It is not a bad song at all, in fact I can see why it was released as a single and that solo towards the end is the best part of this song; but once again the song itself takes a while to get to that point and it almost lost me a few times.  "Walkaway Blues" featuring Jordan Lawlor follow on, this is the debut track with Lawlor who has replaced Morgan Kibby who left before the recording of this album.  It is a slower number that reminds me of the music of my youth, but not in a way that compliments the musicians sadly.  It is that shade of 80’s retro which I was not too fond of in my youth, that feeling has not changed in the intervening years if I am honest.  The saving grace is once again that the band know how to build towards a euphoric ending and Jordan Lawlor does have a good vocal style for this band, it is just a shame that 60% of this song does not match the talent of the band.  “Bibi the Dog” follows on and it is forged in a Continental euro-disco style, sounding as dreamy as early Air with their own take on the formula.  It is the first song on the album that actually raises my interest level, it is working to the strengths of the current version of the band and it does have a catchy beat. Featuring the vocals of Mai Lan once more, it does have a certain appeal for all those people who loved their disco to be slow and bright.  “Moon Crystal” is a short track which sounds like it is based on a TV show theme, something which has been mentioned before and it is something that does not work for me.  It just feels like it is out of place here and it also reminds me of the Curiosity Killed the Cat cover of the song “Hang on in There Baby” originally by Johnny Bristol, it shares a similar cord pattern and style; basically, I am not a fan of this song and I will quickly move on before I start to say something libellous. 

“For the Kids” features the vocal talents of Susanne Sundfør and one more I feel as if the world has gone on its head, this is a song that sounds as if it has been taken straight out of bad 1970’s romantic pop and it is not even trying to make any apologies for it.  I have to admire the talent; the performance is professional and it does not go off on any strange tangents, but this song about keeping strong in the face of a bad love just sounds like a bad Bond theme – the kid speaking is just creepy and should terrify anyone who has seen any horror film.   “Solitude” is another slow number that is background music for a dinner party or romantic night when the world needs to know that the man is sensitive, but strong.  I am lost here, really I cannot say anything nice here and I do not want to be rude – so I am going to say that it is once again played professionally, but it is not for me once more.  “The Wizard” is just frustrating; until the last few moments, it sounds as if you are hearing the song through a closed door or in a dense fog and the song does not gain any clarity till about the one minute twenty-five mark.  By that point, the song is half way done and the payoff is nowhere near as good as the band might have hoped; this is a real shame as the music itself is one of the better sequences of the album, as I said it is frustrating.  “Laser Gun” once again features the vocals of Mai Lan is a surprising song for me on this album, it is a big and brash chorus number with delicate verses and bridges to contrast the euphoric chanting.  It has a similar to MIA and has a great hook – this is what I expect from M83, a song that I can just lose myself in for a few minutes and enjoy the music which is something that has been sorely missed on this album.  “Road Blaster” continues the good form of "Laser Gun" with a flawed number that works despite a couple of flaws, it is another song that evokes memories of 80's electronica, but this time it is Swiss duo Yello and their masterful use of horns and outlandish drumming.  I would be lying if I said that it did not bring a smile to my face after feeling like such a sour man for the best percentage of this review, it also feels like a cross between the Yello song "The Race" and two M83 numbers - "Midnight City" and "We Own the Sky".  It has a pumped up feeling to the song, with an energy that has been sorely lacking from the album and gives it something that has been missing from this album - entertainment.

"Tension" is another of the small interlude songs, this one is a slow keyboard progression, a strumming guitar and the hero is walking to the sunset as the film/tv show is ending after giving a moral lesson on the dangerous of playing with broken electronic devices.  There is no tension sadly, just an upwards chord progression that goes nowhere in the brief time it is in existence and sort of ends a little awkwardly. "Atlantique Sud" once again features Mai Lan, this time sounding as if they are at the end of an awkward love story, with a song that has some great passages in it.  I like the vocals, the lyrics in French and the gentle delivery is a nice touch to hear and the song itself is not without a certain charm; but the retro feeling of the music is something that does not sit too well here, it is backwards facing instead of looking to the future.  It could well be a perfect metaphor for this album if the truth be told.  "Time Wind" is the penultimate full song on this album, featuring an appearance from musical maverick Beck.  This track had the potential to be the song of the album, despite the clunky keyboard which litters this number, Mr Beck has weaved his magical vocals over this song and make it an interesting number.  However, it ends without any real drama or sense of finality; it just sorts of drifts off without any real momentum or sense of closure that could have given this song an edge.  Even a fade out ending to this 80's-esque number would have worked better than the meandering drift to a halt that ends this song - more frustration that has become the trademark of this album.  The next number is the final interlude song called "Ludivine" and it is a sub-two minute piece that drifts around for a little bit, leaves stage left without the drama and was not required at this point of the album.  It could have very easily just been added to the final song, which is called "Saturday Night 1987" and it is a sombre piece with slow keys, reflective lyrics and soul searching about the past.  Now, this might be a beautiful moment for Anthony Gonzalez as he looks back on years gone by as he grew up, but it does not reach the required emotional peaks to make it anything other than a decent song that reminds me of the Lionel Ritchie & Diana Ross song "Endless Love", but it does not have a chorus that sticks in the brain, it just feels like an empty room without any warmth that a reflective track requires.  A sad ending to this album, but without tears....
If there is one thing that this album proves, it is that humans are destined to make the same mistakes again and again, I just never thought I would hear it in the modern era with this form of music and I never thought it would be M83 who made an album which showcases all that was wrong with 70's and 80's electronic music.  I get that this might be an album which gives the band a chance to explorer the music of their youth, but this is a weak and lengthy album that is so backwards it hurts.  Mr Gonzales has gone on the record he feels it is boring to put out the same album again & again - I agree with him there, but this is not a progression on previous works or something anything that has not been released by other artists before him (and to be honest, with better results as well).  It has a few decent to good moments, but it is 15 songs long and some of them are just pointless. It is just a very poor album, I have no more words to add without being unduly unkind and I do not want to do that - not one I would recommend, but you will have to be the judge of that by streaming from one of the links below.

2 out of ten - If only there was some quality control

Top track - Road Blaster

You can purchase Junk on Amazon here

You can visit the M83 website here

You can follow the activities of M83 on Facebook here

You can stream Junk on Deezer here 

You can stream Junk on Spotify here

You can stream Junk on Tidal here 

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