Who knows what discussions are had behind closed doors when a band – and its handlers and managers, labels and publishers – decides now is the time to go big or go home, step into their imperial phase, reach for that filthy stadium lucre. What sacrifices made, what secret committees convened and satanic bargains struck with the greasy Cthulhu maw of the industry overlords. Conversely, ambition and progress are to be admired and encouraged, ye begrudgers. The journey is more interesting than the destination. This is where You Me at Six find themselves with Night People; in their very own words, “It’s stadiums or bust”.
So, in comes the producer of Kings of Leon’s two biggest albums, the Nashville studio in which they were recorded, and a mixing engineer who in the last three years has worked with Green Day, Black Sabbath and Bon Jovi, and won Grammys with Red Hot Chilli Peppers. And… Adele.
On the openers ‘Night People’ and ‘Plus One’ you really can hear that budget, bigly. The bass slides with glossy TCB girth, the drums thrust and barrumph with hormonal gunk, breathy pop vocal mannerisms are given a leering, sneering Botox enema and the all the scuzz and angst of the guitars is buffed and polished until it holds a glassy metallic sheen. It rocks more than it rolls, but hey hey, my my, it works. Money well spent.
But on the trio of ‘Heavy Soul’, ‘Take on the World’, and ‘Brand New’ it’s apparent that this rock record has a soft middle, a queasy paunch of pop-rock balladeering tween-friendly unit shifters. Complete with box-fresh, Followill trademarked, chorus-delay-overdrive guitar motifs, swelling, aspirational choruses and the songwriters’ A to Z of melodic and lyrical cliché. “Nobody knows you the way that I know you / Look in my eyes I will never desert you / Just say the word and we’ll take on the world”. Oh, please. Suddenly a boot stamping on a human face forever, seems like quite a nice proposition, thank you kindly.
From there it’s an uneven climb towards the album’s best songs. ‘Swear’ has an earworm of a vocal chorus but is held back by its conventional four chord backing. Slippery synth hooks and some slick extreme volume riffage power ‘Make your Move’ and ‘Can’t Hold Back’ but the songs themselves are tone-rich and tune-light.
But it finishes extremely well. ‘Spell it out’ is the album’s best track: a standout vocal performance, terrific contrast between verse and chorus, subtle octave harmonies, guitars and drums providing real atmosphere and menace. In “I’m not a saviour / But I ain’t no traitor” it also possesses the collection’s best lyric. Closing, ‘Give’ impressively integrates beats, guitars and vocals – blending familiar components into something organic and innovative.
In sum this is a likeable, yet patchy record. The opportunity cost, however, is in not gambling more on their stronger, more original elements to create a fresher, more left-field album.