Album Review: With 'Junk', M83 turn up nostalgia, but trademarks of previous music remain
On the new cheesy, 80s-indebted M83 album Junk, Anthony Gonzalez and his rotating band of collaborators, turn up the nostalgia while still maintaining the trademark elements of his previous albums. So the slow build, orchestral arrangements and seemingly disembodied vocals that are M83 trademarks combine with serious synths and lots of bluster for a fun listen that veers from bombastic to slow jam worthy.
Album opener, and lead single ‘Do It, Try It’, seemed to be such a departure for M83 that many thought Gonzalez was trolling his fan base, with a song that seemed far removed from the casually building, effervescent songs that characterised his previous two albums, Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming and Saturdays = Youth. It didn’t help that the album cover, released with the single showed two cartoonish characters and a burger, superimposed on a night sky.
Most critics have sought to explain the change in direction as one that was caused by the success of Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming — the breakout album that included the runaway hit ‘Midnight City’. With Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming as the soundtrack to many an (imagined) late night drive through neon highways, it seems more likely that Gonzalez, having refined that sound has chosen to go off and mine his memories for another type of sound with which to experiment.
By way of explanation, Gonzalez released the following statement with the first single, “Anything we create today is going to end up being space junk at one point anyway, and I find it really fascinating and scary at the same time — beautiful too in a way. I have this image of pieces of humanity floating in space, lost forever. It also means that nowadays everything goes so fast and everybody is kind of throwing away art in a certain manner. People will listen to an album for instance and just pick a track they like to put on a playlist. They’re not going to take the time to listen to an album anymore because they have to jump on the next thing.”
Taken out of the context of the album, the song jaunty piano line and thumping bass line seem to mark a point when our constant mining of nostalgia and the need for a new club banger have reached an inflection point — one that manages to please neither those who grew up on Chic and Prince or those who are comfortable dancing to club music today. However, when seen in the framework of the album — the song serves as a statement of intent, one that manages to be both of the moment and yet typical of the soundtrack memories.
However, subsequent singles ‘Solitude’ and ‘Go’ indicated that Gonzalez had chosen to take his music on a ride back to the 80s. The orchestral ‘Solitude’ is a song that Gonzalez could only have written after working on the soundtrack for 2013’s Tom Cruise starrer, Oblivion. It's apparent that his work on that movie’s music has greatly expanded the scale of his sound, allowing the floating, gauzy vocals to soar with the backing of an orchestra in tow — proving that he can make a James Bond theme to best the one Sam Smith offered up for Spectre.
Album standout ‘Go!’ gets an uncredited fillip from guitarist Steve Vai, who steals the show on the track with a guitar riff that will linger in your mind, on top of a chorus that can be chanted at bars and house parties around the world. A song like ‘Road Blaster’, sounds like vintage M83 and not vintage, but there is some of the latter too in songs like ‘Atlantique Sud’. Then there’s something like ‘Bibi the Dog’, that manages to be somewhere in between.
Could it be, that the album — with its ample use of saxophone and electric guitar — manages to be the soundtrack for when man is finally ready to venture into space? Allowing those of us that climb into orbit to recall a time when the hedonistic days gone by met the 21st century’s increasingly disposable culture.
After all, this album still has the epic feel that characterises all his previous efforts; only this one feels like its set in the past past, whereas everything else seemed to have been set in the near past. Gonzalez has with Junk managed to create an antidote to the critique he has made of our increasingly impatient engagement with music.