Producer: Justin Meldal-Johnsen, Anthony Gonzales
Released: April 8, 2016
M83’s 2011 album Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming made the electropop group’s name recognizable for larger audiences with the hit “Midnight City”, a song that is singlehandedly responsible for bringing saxophones back into pop music. It also made the audience aware of the immense, heat-wrenching nostalgia frontman Anthony Gonzalez feels for the eighties.
The follow-up, named Junk presumably to lower the expectations the fans have had time to build up for the last five years, continues on the shown path: Gonzalez has stated Junk was inspired by 80’s TV series, which to me sounded like this album would include buckets of pre-recorded laugh tracks and jokes that in 2016 would be deemed incredibly offensive. Even though those two aspects are not to be found on the record, Junk features many other tiresome elements of eighties pop music that it could’ve very well done without.
Its unconditional love for the eighties is the ultimate dealbreaker of Junk: it is not a tribute to the decade in question, it is the exact replica, with all the problems that implies. The album shines when it is at it’s most glitzy and bombastic, with tracks like “Go!”, a funky tune that makes great use of alternating between its quiet verses and booming choruses; the more toned-down but no less catchy “Laser Gun”; the sax-driven “Road Blaster” would fit perfectly for an atmospheric midnight drive around a neon-lit downtown.
On the flipside we have tracks like the instrumental “Moon Crystal”, which is thirty years too late from being actual bland eighties TV show tune. The sluggishly slow “Solitude” drags on for a whopping six minutes, but since the song has nothing new to say about its subject matter and uses some of the least pleasant-sounding synth strings and keyboard sounds ever invented, it manages to sound about four times longer. However, the whole album is best encapsulated in “For the Kids”: the song sounds exactly like every single one of those ballads that Michael Bolton and Celine Dion would sing over the credits of a 80s kids’ film. The difference here is that this track never actually appeared in an old kids’ movie, so it lacks all the nostalgic value that would excuse it from being a stinky pile of moldy, expired 80s cheese it is. “Atlantique Sud” is an example of a much more tastefully composed and produced ballad, though the three words of French I know are not quite enough to say anything about the lyrics.
Despite being so strongly rooted in the 80s that it’s surprising the record didn’t come packaged with a mullet and a season box of Magnum P.I., Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming managed to have some sort of perspective regarding what aspects of the era it was celebrating. Junk, on the other hand, is too bound by its pastichical nature, becoming shackled and defined by its inspiration, rather than building upon it. It starts to verge towards the danger zone where a homage hits so close to home that there’s no real point for it; you could just be listening the original work and nothing would change. It’s a real shame, since the album does have a couple of great songs to showcase that in the brief moments he’s not completely blinded by nostalgia Gonzales can still deliver.
I have to say that Junk is appropriately titled, but not for the obvious cheap gag about its general quality. Actually, it reminds me of junk food: greasy and tasty enough to momentarily satisfy your hunger, but way too many artificial ingredients so it would have any lasting impact on you.