Years & Years album Night Call channels neon liberation – review

Years & Years album Night Call channels neon liberation – review
Third album is stacked with solid tunes that reimagine the day-glo decade in winking, pulsating high-definition

“It’s all pretty pumping,” is Olly Alexander’s accurate assessment of Years & Years’ third album Night Call. It’s the first record the 31-year-old Yorkshire lad has made since the band became a solo project (with Mikey Goldsworthy continuing to perform live with Alexander and Emre Türkmen working on other projects as a producer). Alexander has acknowledged it would have been more conventional for him to go solo under his own name, but he felt he’d invested in the Y&Y brand too personally to relinquish it. His renewed commitment to it is audible.

The chunky latex bass lines and glitter synths of Night Call were inspired by the Eighties synth pop he tuned into while starring in the Channel 4 séries C'est un peché. le 18.9 million viewers of the first major British TV series about the Aids crisis might expect the album to carry some of the show’s heartbreak. But what it actually channels is the neon liberation of those old gay club dancefloors, while celebrating how far the culture has come. Comme Dua Lipa’s 2020 album Future Nostalgia, Night Call is stacked with solid tunes that reimagine the Day-Glo decade in winking, pulsating high-definition.

Also like Future Nostalgia, the love songs all reach for the stars – both lyrically and metaphorically. Released back in March 2021, first single “Starstruck” was actually inspired by a night spent gazing at the constellations, during which Alexander became determined to “create something super positive and fun for people to bop along to… We all deserve three minutes of interstellar ecstasy.”

Opener “Consequences” hits us with a deep squelchy beat, while the vocodering on Alexander’s pretty purr sounds as though it’s been filtered through a vintage arcade game. The cynical probing of the lyrics nod back to the Pet Shop Boys. The title track samples the Penguin Cafe Orchestra’s 1981 “Telephone & Rubber Band”, as Alexander unapologetically waits for a late night booty call: “No sir, I do not have a guilty conscience/ Let’s see what loving you can do.”

Those of us who lived through the Eighties will remember that the era’s gay pop stars kept their lyrics sexually ambiguous long after the public became aware of their orientation. Even in his 1998 coming out single “Outside” – accompanied by a video that showed men kissing one another – George Michael didn’t sing explicitly about loving men. So it’s a giddy delight to hear Alexander sing with such direct romance about “the man of my dreams” on the anthemic single “Sweet Talker”. Alas, the object of Alexander’s desire is a heartbreaker. It’s the same situation on “Crave”. As a keyboard skims up and down stratospheric arpeggios, the 31-year-old sighs: “The only thing I crave is pain from you.” There’s a tropical vibe to “Immaculate”, so smoothly danceable that you won’t even spill your coconut cocktail.

Slower tracks such as “Intimacy” and “Strange and Unusual” luxuriate in sex fantasy dreamscapes, with aerosol sprays of synth notes hanging like particles suspended in the air. On the former, Alexander declares: “I’m not one for casual intimacy… Your sex is heaven as far as I’m concerned/ I don’t want you to be another lesson learned.” On the latter, Alexander’s vocal floats like a shimmer of gauze, even as he sings that things are getting “ugly”. “Muscle” is a simple ode to a potential lover’s physique, while “Sooner or Later” finds Alexander swallowing lies “like ecstasy”.

The album fades out with the layers of angelic vocals of “Reflection” over a squash-ball beat of tough, dark elasticity. “Hold me, just one time,” pleads Alexander. “We could fall in love/ Though we both know that’s not happening.” Few pop acts are making heartbreak so straightforwardly danceable at the moment. All hail to Years & Years for continuing to hit us with those laser beams.

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