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The least ambitious double album ever

20/10/2011
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Rule #1 of double albums: be ambitious and relish in your ambitions. A double album is one of the ultimate artistic statements, built with immense confidence that you’re so in your creative peak that everything you write is so golden they deserve to be put out at the same time. Grand concepts lie within the covers of double albums, statements of both the thematic and musical kind. Even when the execution falters, when the result turns out to be more flawed than imagined, it invites great excitement and interest: the sheer magic surrounding a double album is so alluring that even the ones riddled with filler are something to be heard just to witness the ambition that was invested into it and revel in its delusional grandeur. At their best they are gigantic monoliths of musical greatness, countless great songs bound by common themes and ideas and presented in a massive package to dig into for ages.

On that note, to put it bluntly, Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming is the least ambitious double album I’ve heard. It’s like the boy who is pushed to a career in a field he doesn’t care about by his commandeering father and who’s too afraid to say no to his father’s orders. It’s a double album, but it sure isn’t excited to be one.

There is a lot to love to the album though. M83 continue on the path set by Saturdays = Youth and revisit the sounds of Gonzalez’s youth in the 80s, going even further with it this time. While Saturdays was in its sound a tribute to the nostalgic hits we loved when we were kids, who in that album’s case just happened to have lived their early days in the 80s, Hurry Up is straight-up 80s flashback with its saxophones, slap basses and reverb, blown up to stadium proportions. It’s all treated with a modern touch obviously, but it doesn’t take too long to realise that the music deeply yearns to the eighties. It’s not a bad thing either: Gonzalez already showed he had one hell of a knack for a great pop song on the previous album and this time he continues on that path with far less reservations, fully submitting to the joy of creating stadium-sized 80s-inspired pop songs where choruses are massive, synths blare loudly and clearly and everything’s covered with shiny joy. “Midnight City”, the lead single, might just be the greatest thing Gonzalez has pulled out during his entire career. Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming contains everything it takes to have a fantastic pop album and a huge candidate for album of the year slots.

But it’s a double album. To be more precise, it’s a double album that has no genuine desire to be a double album. The fact that it’s barely over one album in total length isn’t really an issue: Kate Bush‘s Aerial was the same and it still fully justified its two-disc nature. The issue is that you could barely call half the entire two-disc set as songs. A fantastic 11-13 track album lies within Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming but having no spine to step against the father’s stern commands, the album half-arsedly slaps sketches, stems and quick doodles into the tracklist and unwillingly calls it a day; that 11-13 track album is hidden underneath an endless sea of interludes after interludes after interludes. Now, I love a good interlude: I’m a nerd for cohesive album structures and sometimes a brilliant, short interlude that segues together separate elements of an album into a solid structure is a fantastic addition to the tracklist. Precisely zero of the countless interludes and other short moments scattered throughout Hurry Up offer that. Instead, they’re seemingly random snippets of a minute and a half’s worth of sound. Sometimes they have an idea going on for them but they seem more like ideas and sketches for songs yet to be completed than anything that stands on its own right. And they pour out constantly. Imagine a car ride where you end up stopping at every single red light you come across, endlessly just about accelerating to top speed before having to slow down and stop again. An unnecessary interlude feels pointless and, well, unnecessary: pile several of them together, enough to form a vast fraction of the album’s total length, and you’re talking about genuinely bothersome filler.

This isn’t a double album that wants to be a double album. It’s one forcedly turned into one. It’s not even a fascinating case of double-album failure because it doesn’t feel like a proper double album in the first place. It’s simply your bog-standard overlong album crammed with filler, only this case the artist felt the filler was so essential that they had to split it across two discs. I’d love to love Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming on the strength of its frequent moments of greatness: the epic sunshine rock of “Reunion” and “Steve McQueen”, the dramatic closing scene bombast in “Echoes of Mine” and “My Tears Are Becoming a Sea”, the lightweight pop joy presented in “OK Pal” and “Claudia Lewis”, beautiful melancholy of “Wait” and of course the ever-triumphant and majestic “Midnight City. But whenever you get taken by the mood, there’s a minute or two or non-event sound waiting to randomly appear and hit the brakes.

Even for us album nerds, one of our favourite things with double albums is the what-if discussion of hypothetical single-disc variants of the said album: trying to create the perfect one disc version out of two discs of songs, carefully thinking which ones support eachother the best, which ones work together and where in the tracklist, the glee of removing the biggest bugbears that bother you and the endless debates and discussions that follow when everyone else’s tracklist deviates from yours. If there’s been a double album in recent memory that invites its listener to participate in such what-if scenarios the most, it’s this one. There’s a fantastic 40-50 minute album hidden here: what better way to spend a while than coming up with one and giving the fantastic songs here a life without unnecessary, unenthusiastic interruptions?


Midnight City

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