Like me, you may have come to love M83, the project of French electronic popist Anthony Gonzalez, for the glorious luminosity of his breakthrough singles “Run Into Flowers” and “Don’t Save Us From the Flames,” both of which combined the shapeless wash of My Bloody Valentine’s guitars with the Aphex Twin’s lucid-dreaming production values. (That really makes M83 our decade’s Seefeel.) Early reports of their fourth album Saturdays = Youth sounded vaguely promising, with its talk of combining an endless teenage idyll with 1980s production values. The reality, however, is a good deal more prosaic.
With the exception of the engorged “Couleurs,” “Dark Moves of Love”’s lift into the stratosphere, and the ambient feather-on-the-breath drones of “Midnight Souls Still Remain,” Saturdays = Youth is strangely leaden, an album fenced off by its conceptual constraints. The songs are ‘big pop’ without the melodies: on several occasions you hear trace elements of Simple Minds’ New Gold Dream, but completely stripped of its peculiar affect, the glimmer of that album’s title track rerouted into overblown slabs of bombast. M83’s signature sound, a kind of mainline rush of silver and sugar, is now in the service of songs that misread period songwriting clichés just enough to be wrong, but not enough to feel somehow right. After the arch ‘80s revisits of the likes of Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti, Saturdays = Youth just sounds a bit clumsy.
Lyrically, Saturdays = Youth obsesses over the usual subcultural signifiers, with a particular fixation on goth girls. “Skin of the Night” talks of a “Queen of the night” who “digs her nails into her naked chest / Miles of veins fan out like a road map”; the following “Graveyard Girl” “worships Satan like a father / But dreams of a sister like Molly Ringwald.” (Yes, those really are the lyrics.) It’s the kind of thing you’d expect from ironic comedy/critique of 1980s yoof subculture, but with any distance or sarcasm rendered moot.
I do appreciate the rhetoric of some of the song titles: "We Own the Sky" is a nice encapsulation of teenage invincibility. In that regard, the production's return to the 1980s is a canny move, on Gonzalez's part, and Saturdays = Youth is certainly a conceptually consistent album. But the modern teenager no longer has that kind of ambition, as one of neoliberalism's great victories is not just a naturalization of the myth of entitlement, but a kind of perpetual, unavoidable mode of instant wish fulfilment - 'owning the sky' is now an a priori fact. So while the conceptual fortitude is nice, this isn't a record I could ever imagine revisiting, Pretty in Pink fixation notwithstanding.