Wednesday, July 30, 2008

He loves the '80s

Score: 5

A song called "Teen Angst" appeared on Anthony Gonzalez's last nonseries album, the masterwork
Before the Dawn Heals Us
this time around, the topic carries a lot more weight. Saturdays=Youth is Gonzalez's homage to the '80s, particularly to synthesizer-heavy British rock.

"Graveyard Girl" bears the unmistakable influence of New Order, guitars chiming over synth strings and a brisk tempo. But the bridge goes overboard, yielding the floor to the title character, who, with a school bell ringing in the background, proceeds to drown us in melodrama:

"I'm gonna jump the walls and run. I wonder if they'll miss me. I won't miss them. The cemetery is my home; I want to be a part of it, invisible even to the night. Then I'll read poetry to the stones. Maybe one day I could be one of them: wise and silent, waiting for someone to love me, waiting for someone to kiss me. I'm 15 years old, and I feel it's already too late to live. Don't you?"
The monologue reduces her to a stereotypically irrational teenager, removing any intrigue from her graveyard fascination. It's precisely the sort of move that's at odds with Gonzalez's wistfulness, making him seem more of a patronizing adult than the kindred spirit he means to be.

Many of the vocals come courtesy of Morgan Kibby, a classically trained Los Angeles-based musician with whom he's collaborating. Also on hand is brother Yann, who helps with the songwriting, and drummer Loic Maurin in an expanded role, also contributing guitar, bass and keyboards this time around.

Saturdays=Youth continues Gonzalez's retreat from his early instrumental works, as well as his movement toward conventional song structures. Gone are the choirs of Before the Dawn Heals Us. Gone, too, are the noisy jaunts, leaving Saturdays=Youth fairly homogeneous.

As on past M83 releases, the final track is of epic length: 11-plus minutes. The problem is that there's too little variation in "Midnight Souls Still Remain" to support its runtime. The moody synth drone, registering somewhere between Brian Eno and Angelo Badalamenti, doesn't function as a climax; it simply stretches on for what seems like an arbitrarily long time, then drops off.

Also frustrating is the album's cover, a tableau of characters with uncanny resemblance to those featured in coming-of-age movies set in the '80s. Ever seen "The Breakfast Club"? Even if you've seen the box, you'll get it. Ever seen "Donnie Darko"? Really, a guy in skeleton pajamas?! The only way that could be more obvious is to have the dude with the neck chain appear as a giant menacing rabbit.

Gonzalez would have done better to try subtlety. His nostalgia for the '80s is genuine, and his mimicry of some of the decade's British rock touchstones (Tears for Fears, Kate Bush) is skilled, but his heavy-handed approach doesn't do justice to him or his inspirations.

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