I am currently sitting on a train listening to the first Busted album in over ten years and I am reminded of doing almost the exact same thing in what now feels like a previous life. Then it was 2003, I was a fresh-faced first year student heading home for reading week and the album was A Present For Everyone, hastily purchased in a retail outlet on Manchester Piccadilly station. It was an album that lacked the joy and hubris of their first release and it was to spell the beginning of the end for the band.
What happened between that album and now is well documented. Lead singer Charlie Simpson's dalliance with and ultimate defection to new project Fightstar. The acrimonious split. Various solo endeavours that never quite cut it. Rehabs, reality shows and rumours. The partial reformation under the McBusted banner. Now, in 2016, an event that seemed so unlikely to ever happen has occurred. Following their successful Pigs Can Fly reunion tour, we can finally dip into Busted's third studio album Night Driver. As I'm sure Busted would want me to, I close my eyes on the train and imagine it is midnight and I am in a Ford Fiesta with Charlie, Matt and James cruising along the Southend seafront.
First things first, let's get this elephant out of the way. Busted's sound has changed since 2005. What? You mean they no longer prance around with frosted tips and clothes four sizes too big whining nasally about unattainable girls and time travel? Afraid not. This album owes more to the 80s than it does to the early 21st century. I think the album actually gets off to a bad start. Opening track Coming Home is quite throwaway but things soon ramp up once title track Night Driver kicks in. Simpson's voice sparkles in a way that I haven't seen before. It shows a beautiful maturity and versatility that, in all honesty, I wouldn't have thought him capable of.
What follows is solid if unspectacular. If you had told me that funk track On What You're On had some Daft Punk involvement, I wouldn't have argued the point. Thinking Of You feels like it is channelling a slight Justin Bieber vibe. Without It and I Will Break Your Heart are the purest acknowledgement of the 80s influence and had me imagining Foreigner and Kirsty MacColl respectively. There is even a couple of throwbacks to the darker, more angst-ridden tracks of A Present For Everyone in the form of New York and Easy. The album closes out with Those Days Are Gone, a ballad of longing that starts so promisingly but, for some inexplicable reason, introduces a mood-killing dance beat halfway through.
I have seen Busted's new sound compared in some quarters to The 1975 and I can see the basis to a certain extent, though I do feel some of it has to do with The 1975's video which shows them driving around at night. For me, Busted have returned with an air of Stars In Their Eyes contestants, not even necessarily in a bad way. It feels like they wanted a completely fresh start but couldn't quite decide what that was going to look like so they borrowed aspects from a few different people to try them on for size.
The result is an album that is entertaining but all the while feels a little disjointed and it's something I can't help but be in two minds about. I like the fact that this album feels a lot more collaborative whereas in the past it has felt at times like three solo artists competing for the limelight. Saying that, there was something about the unbounded carnage of their previous incarnation that appealed to me. There are also some neat touches built to surprise – dreamy basslines and melting saxophones. Unfortunately, diversity will always be the thorn in this album's side.
I'm going to try and stay with the positives of Night Driver. Busted are back which is definitely a step in the right direction and I will treat this album as a placeholder for better things to come. Perhaps a fourth album will give them a chance to really nail down their true North. One thing is for certain, next time Busted and I decide to go for a nocturnal road trip, I'll make sure I slip a copy of their debut album in the glove box, just in case.
Then again, I might be wrong. I am a Musical Moron, after all...
Lyric Of The Week
“She's optimistic 'bout the future of our planet
And the smile on her lips, oh, it must be the Xanax”
On What You're On
Late night revelry
Shines but the search goes on for
Past masters' new sound
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