Published on April 9th, 2016 | by Jeff Thiessen0
M83 – Junk
M83 have had as many sounds as they have had albums, but does their new album, Junk, head too far into territory best left behind?
As a long time music writer, one pitfall we often make is being much more forgiving when overlooking shortcomings of a ‘brave album.’ By that I mean, we hear so much stuff that just sort of blends into each other, that when an established artist releases a middle-finger album, we get so hopped up on the radical departure it courageously takes, many times we forget to actually examine the music on the album as we would normally. Sometimes the middle finger is big enough, that the music should be an afterthought (like Yeezus).
But in most cases, these types of releases require us to step back and let the admirable rebellion element wash away, and allow us to consider the radical approach along with the actual musical merits of the album. After all, these are just sets of music, how much power should really give a ‘statement’ album? Statements wither away and die, the music remains a constant in the historical narrative. With that said, Junk is an enormously bold and coherent departure away from the M83 we have come to know and fanatically love — I’ll give them credit for having the balls to put this out there (especially since it’s safe to say this will be the most current M83 album for a good three to four years). And it is enjoyable, sort of, like eating tequila backwards. Junk is a straight portal to the electro-balladry movement of late eighties, movies, advertisements, the whole nine. I never thought a closing song on a M83 album would remind me of Beaches, but here we are.
But like any branch out homage album, it’s fun, albeit fun with a giant asterisks that puts entirely too much onus on us to approach it properly. Junk is particularly taxing in this regard, I had to keep reminding myself that it’s a musical version of intelligent design, and (hopefully) not an outright cornball, yacht cocktail mix if I had any hope of enjoying the damn thing. Nowhere was this more evident than on ‘For the Kids,’ an almost unforgivably revolting Bette Middlerish preenfest which fails in warping the line between quirky throwback and an outright embrace of the worst elements M83 are clearly paying tribute to.
This happens far too often in the back half of Junk. Channeling old moods, old sounds in the present is a tricky business, but the golden rule is, you’ve gotta be able to successfully differentiate between the worthwhile stuff that can be re imagined into the present, or whatever — and the crap that deserves to stay in the sewer our culture properly resigned it to. M83 seems to bring everything to our day, from the glitter to the sludge, and there’s a distinct feeling we’re supposed to be thankful for this comprehensiveness, or at least begrudgingly admire their lack of discrimination when it comes to the aural haul.
When examined from this vantage point, it presents us with a very stern reality. You can’t omit irony from this type of album. It must exist in some form. M83 has chosen an almost mutant form of sincerity on their approach to Junk, and even though this sincerity comes from a warm and genuine place, it doesn’t ring true, as the sincerity is brutally ripped from the sentiment of late eighties prom dances. It doesn’t translate to 2016, no matter how bad M83, or the listener wants it to.
The accuracy is pretty startling actually, it’s a testament to their skill as musicians how closely it does resemble and channel this period. And when they do sort of marginally abandon the stern rewind agenda and allow their own impulses to breathe into the music, it’s pretty damn awesome, namely with first two tracks on album actually. ‘Go’ in particular is a terrific fusion of what we love in dance music today/what we think we miss about dance music in 1987. The opening track ‘Do It’/Try It’ isn’t quite as successful in this regard, but close.
But then we come to the stuttering keyboard solo in ‘Bibi the Dog’ and the groove comes to a grinding halt. We start thinking about the music again, and wondering what the hell is going on. ‘Moon Crystal’ gives us a fun game: “What 80’s gum commercial would this work best for?” Eddie Vedder’s best lyric comes in ‘Hail, Hail’ when he rails “I don’t wanna think/I wanna feel.” M83 makes it almost a militant goal to make this not a reality of Junk, and ultimately, their delusional refusal to accept the contemporary mindsets of their listeners is the failing of this record.
Basically, this is the electronic version of Primal Scream’s Riot City Blues. Both clearly love their homage subject (good), but almost love it too much (bad). I don’t want a current act making a replica of an 80s sound. Make it ours, don’t hold it with such admiration you contemptibly force us to place ourselves contextually in a decade where many of us weren’t born yet. It’s up to M83 to bridge that gap, not push us to the ledge and force a leap of faith. Too many of us won’t make it. I know I didn’t.