Busted ‘Night Driver’ – Review

10 Dec

Back in 2013, James Bourne and Matt Willis from Busted teamed up with Mcfly to form the unfortunately named supergroup ‘Mcbusted’. A successful, nostalgia tinged tour was followed by a concessionary sigh of an album – a regrettable acknowledgement that a fully fledged Busted album was unlikely to ever happen. Mcbusted’s self-titled album somehow exaggerated Busted’s worst traits – dodgy accents, corny cultural references, a sprinkling of casual misogyny – while containing little trace of the hooks and humour that made the band so great in the first place. You see Busted always skirted close to the edge of good taste and it didn’t take much for Mcbusted to tip the balance. Matt (at least) has since conceded that the album was a somewhat rushed, hatchet job; an effort to capitalise on a moment that had already passed in the space of six weeks. Nostalgia, it seems, won’t sustain an audience much longer than a two hour live show. If you want them to stick around, you have to offer something more substantial.

Then, last November something truly remarkable happened in the bizarro land of planet pop. Busted announced they were getting back together. As in Charlie, Matt and James. This is the same Charlie who vehemently swore he’d never rejoin the band, who said so countless times in interviews, who mocked his old group and talked of his embarrassment at even being associated with them. There’s a reason the band called their comeback tour the ‘pigs can fly tour’. But it isn’t hard to see why Charlie left the band in the first place and why his stance has since softened. In 2005 he was a teenager with a serious interest in alternative music. When he went to see bands at local venues he would be heckled – one time by the band themselves. In that stifling climate you can understand why he would feel the need to separate himself from Busted. Now he’s in his thirties and the musical climate is a whole lot more forgiving to pop acts. The same binaries between genres don’t exist to anywhere near the same extent. Pop generally is in a much healthier condition than at the turn of the millennium. The idea of a pop act being taken less seriously than an alternative band feels almost prehistoric. In this context Charlie is free to peruse both bands without losing any credibility at all.

And so we arrive at ‘Night Driver’, Busted’s first album since 2003’s ‘A Present For Everyone’. The stuff we heard on tour already suggested that we were in for a better ride than ‘Mcbusted’ and thankfully the album doesn’t disappoint. It’s a sophisticated and nuanced step up from previous releases that sounds at once like the work of a band all singing from the same hymn sheet. There is none of the animosity or musical concessions that I half expected. It conveys the virtue of friendship overcoming difficulty and heartbreak.

Each of the pre-release singles, ‘Coming Home’, ‘On What You’re On’, ‘Easy’ and ‘One of a Kind’ sound as different from one another as they do from the kindergarten pop-punk of Busted’s original lifespan. ‘Coming Home’ is a streamlined take on Chrvches throwback synth-pop. It’s lyrics are total cornball but it contains an uplifting sentiment that sets the tone nicely for the reunion. ‘On What You’re On’ is a more robust and modern anthem that rips off Daft Punk so overtly it’s almost comical. That said, it reminds me of nothing so much as S Club 7’s classic but largely forgotten ‘Don’t Stop Moving’. ‘Easy’ was debuted on tour and serves as the closest link to Busted’s previous incarnation. With its pretty top line, warm acoustic arrangement and emotive singing, it recalls classics like ‘Sleeping with the Light On’ and ‘3AM’. Next single ‘One of a Kind’ is more of an outlier sonically but captures the same giddy enthusiasm that guided Busted’s upbeat songs; things like ‘Year 3000’ and ‘What I Go To School For’. On ‘One of a Kind’, and much of the album, classic 80s instruments dominate the arrangements. Synths, drum machines, keytars and saxophones all get dusted off and played faithfully alongside some more 21st century, electronic elements. It works impressively, with perhaps ‘Kids with Computers’, a giddy and annoying ‘Owl City’ rip off, being the only exception.

Perhaps inevitably, there is none of the exuberant humour or cockiness that made Busted’s early songs so infectious. Nor is there the far reaching, youthful enthusiasm that allowed the band to write songs about tripple breasted women, crushing on school teachers and obsessive Dawson’s creek fans. As you grow up, quirks and enthusiasms get diluted or forgotten. Heartbreak, loneliness and anxiety are the where Busted’s interests now lie. That is one of the only regrettable things about the new record; just how seriously it takes itself. The misjudged importance of ‘Kids With Computers’ and the emo moodiness of ‘Without It’ and ‘New York’ rather sour what could be a euphoric moment. It’s for this reason the context of the record – reunion, friendships mended, bridges built – becomes a more interesting narrative than anything contained in the songs themselves.

One of the surprising things about ‘Night Driver’ is just has much it indulges in the pop sounds that the band originally tried so hard to distance themselves from. Their big boast when they released ‘A Present For Everyone’ was that there were more live drums and louder guitars. Charlie left because he wanted to chase a heavier sound. This time they’ve abandoned those elements almost entirely in favour of synthesised flavours and artificial surfaces. We find vocoders, drum machines, keytars and synths galore. The poptimist in me applauds the band for embracing the genre they once tried to escape from but at the same time I’m slightly regretful that the band have put down their guitars. The pop landscape is even more synthetic and processed now than it was in 2002 and more than ever it would be nice to hear some guitars, bass and drums on the pop charts. Busted were a brilliant Trojan horse and that’s what we need once again. 5 Seconds of Summer notwithstanding, there is a significant shortage of young, popular guitar bands in the mainstream. Even successful indie-pop bands are ditching real instruments – recent albums by The 1975, Bastille, The Vamps and Two Door Cinema Club have made a point of how little guitar is featured. Of course the instrument has been out of vogue before, and Busted played a large part in changing that thirteen years ago. They made it ok for Radio programmers to play guitar music again which in turn opened the door for bands like Franz Ferdinand, Razorlight and The Libertines.

I’m not bemoaning the choices Busted made here – Mcbusted shows what a mistake it would be to simply pretend nothing has changed over the past decade – and what Busted set out to achieve here they do. What I’m really calling for is a new act to pick up the baton and run; to make pop music that isn’t terrified of real instruments. But that’s a different argument for a different day I suppose. ‘Night Driver’ works in its own right as a fantastic modern pop record. It tastes even sweeter because of how improbable its very existence (let alone its various successes) actually is. Mcbusted now seem like a bad dream everyone’s glad to have awoken from. Busted are well and truly back; and it turns out pigs don’t just fly, they soar.

7.5/10

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