Aza’s Review – Junk (2016) – M83

M83 JunkThere’s an undeniable flair of 80s synth pop all over M83’s Junk. Unlike their previous outings, there’s something distancing and hard to access about this effort. Moments of greatness are here but, as its namesake would announce, there’s a lot that doesn’t have much nutritional value.

Don’t get me wrong, we should never deride someone for trying something different and that’s exactly what Anthony Gonzalez and his crew have done with Junk. Being a self professed devotee of all things M83 and this album ostensibly being the official follow up to the mammoth Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, my expectation was at a holy grail level. It really is unfair of me to put that kind of heat on this but post Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming came the soundtrack to Oblivion (the only good thing about that movie) which was as epic and emotionally engaging as much of M83’s previous works. It seemed they were on a roll.

To its credit, Junk is a much more exploratory effort and experimental to a fair extent with its feel honouring the best of 80s synth pop. The Triple J flogging of opening track Do It, Try It either grabs you or it doesn’t (I fall into the latter) but certainly heralded the coming of the album which is a 15 track offering of pop driven confections. But as tireless as the work here is to fuse M83 with a conceptual soundscape, the result is more distancing than disarming. It was only in the latter half of the album did I feel back in the lounge room jumping around with the best of them.

Whilst most of the songs are bright and full of whimsy, they feel disposable and like samples of something else to come. Echoes of 80’s TV theme tunes overhang tracks, Go feels like it belongs in an 80’s movie, Walkaway Blues hangs around far too long, Bibi The Dog has 80s techno with French lyrics (the inclusion of French lyrics is one of the albums highlights) but feels repressively looped, Moon Crystal might’ve well have been a rejected Golden Girls opening theme song, For The Kids sounds like a Michael Jackson ballad circa ‘Ben’ period, Solitude feels like a mandatory dubstep ballad that doesn’t really go anywhere and it’s not until you hit Laser Gun that Junk picks itself up and starts to act like an album.

From the almost chartworthy pop treats of Laser Gun and Road Blaster, which take the best of the 80s pop and merge it like sequels to Claudia Lewis, finally the smile of M83 returns. Atlantique Sud, another French language ballad, is a soothing strip back from the effects overload of what came before. Then comes an almost saccharine drenched, cheesy closer in Sunday Night 1987, complete with harmonica solo and a wanting to reach the sort of musical resonance that one Stevie Wonder so beautifully captured.

Kudos to the band for experimenting with a new concept, can’t blame them for continually trying new things and giving it a red hot go. It’s just a lesser experience than I’ve come to expect from M83. Most of this is fairly disposable with glimmers of the greatness from M83. Junk is just ok.