Monday, 28 November 2011

HURRY UP, WE'RE DREAMING



“Yeah, I’ve got a question. Does John Hughes know you raid his soundtracks?”:
M83’s Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming (2011)


This new M83 album is completely excessive in practically every way. Not content with being the most shameless 80s homage conceivable – the synths and cleanly click-drummed tracks sound like they may as well have crawled into 2011 off a John Hughes film soundtrack – Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming is a DOUBLE ALBUM of this kind of material.

It is melodramatic and overblown, like a lot of teen drama I suppose, Hughesian or otherwise, and M83 mastermind Anthony Gonzalez certainly knows what he’s doing in creating such shiny, syrupy-sweet dream pop. However, sometimes glistens so much with the glow of nostalgia that it can only ever really sit on the surface of its own veneer shell. This is essentially where Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming differs from M83’s triumphant Saturdays = Youth of 2008, which remains one of the most perfect pop confections I’ve ever lapsed ears on. Tracks like ‘Kim & Jessie’ and ‘Graveyard Girl’ were certainly Hughesian, there’s no denying that, only I’d argue that theirs was a tribute that employed the tropes within films like The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink to create valid electronica for the C20 which, whilst nostalgic, felt both gorgeous and fresh.

Don’t get me wrong, a lot of the tracks on Hurry Up are listenable enough. Some, like ‘Reunion’, are fairly excellent examples of Gonzalez’s unmistakeable style. The “You make me feel myself” refrain, vaguely UB40ish in its delivery, is a joyous declaration against teenage angst set against Simple Minds-friendly channels of golden electro beats and feather-light guitar-play. Others however, just don’t do, well, anything. And that wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing only on some of the songs on this double album, much of the euphoric, soaring synthesisers and interspersed spoken word fragments are so recycled that they almost suggest an homage of an eighties homage rather than the ode itself.

Compared to Saturdays = Youth, the vocals used on Hurry Up are less woozy and in general, considerably more shouty (‘Claudia Lewis’) which are not nearly as effective as the teenage utterances that formed the bedrock of Saturdays = Youth.

I hate to say it, but, on the whole, Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming feels a little contrived. The unusual, childlike ‘Raconte-Moi Histoire’ is all well and good but, whilst I’m well aware that Gonzalez is French, the casual, sporadic use of French language smacks a bit of unnecessary pretension, especially when you consider that it’s a story about a frog. When songs do work however, like the aforementioned ‘Reunion’, it makes for enjoyable fare. Quel dommage. The female voice saying “You hit my face like a lightning rod, capsized me and doused me in your bay” sounds like a sample of Carry On film innuendo, but is nonetheless somehow sugary sweet given this most candi(e)d of treatments by M83. What’s more, listen to the song’s opening chords and then put something like ‘Thieves Like Us’ by New Order straight afterwards and I’ll guarantee you’ll marvel at the authenticity of the drums of the former when placed beside an actual example of 80s electronic pop.

It remains difficult however to view these occasional treats in isolation when the greater whole of which they are a part is so lacking in substance beyond the initial splendour of an opening synth-laden overture.

To give Gonzalez his due credit however, some of the short minute-and-a-half interludes like ‘This Bright Flash’ and ‘Where the Boats Go’ are nice enough and do unite the tracks and their romantic fairytale quality; an insatiable number of references to the sea making for an Owl and the Pussycat of shiny synth-pop fables. This, I would say, is the double album’s real saving grace, its naivety. Whilst bordering on superficial a lot of the time, this is, I think, largely a result of an unwillingness to stray from a winning set of sonic, aesthetic and atmospheric formulae.

I have to wonder if Gonzalez had gone out of his way to do something wildly different from what he usually does, whether the reviews of such efforts would be as unimpressed as some have been of Hurry Up (though, obviously for reasons based on unfamiliarity rather than the call of ‘same old same old M83’).

There’s a lot to be said for the age-old adage of ‘It it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’. However, this becomes problematic if the thing in question maybe needs a crack or two on its surface for us to know that there is something underneath risking damage. There clearly is something under M83’s retro-print, gold lame façade, but it would easily be skirted over based on this latest effort and without any knowledge of Gonzalez’s earlier work.

On the whole however, Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming isn’t a bad effort. Then again, it doesn’t really feel like an ‘effort’ as such at all. If it weren’t for the fact that Gonzalez demonstrates such acute and diligent sensitivity to his recreation of the tonal nuances of ‘typical’ 80s synthesisers, their often chiming quality and the cinematic connections of such, I’d say it was almost a lazy album. Gonzalez does at least replicate a Hughesian dream pop with an incredible sense of panache that’s, in my opinion, superior to any neighbouring contemporaries producing comparable music today.

Indeed, there is no doubt in my mind that I’ll find myself listening to this album as an antidote to the imminent change in temperature we’re facing now that winter is fast approaching. Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming is like that feeling you get at the start of summer when you’re a kid when it feels like the holidays could last forever. It’s misinformed, but at the time, it feels so real. At times, this album sounds so innocently virtuous and that’s always been the real beauty of M83, for me at least. In this double album, Gonzalez hands us an opportunity for pure dream pop escapism and there’s a lot to be said for that when the days start getting shorter and it’s the nights, rather than the summer, that seem to go on forever.

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