Above all it’s plenty of fun
Adam England
10:57 18th January 2022

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Olly Alexander had a pretty good 2021, what with the runaway success and critical adulation of Channel 4 drama It’s A Sin, collaborations with pop legend Kylie, and a headline spot on New Year’s Eve. This week, he'll be looking to the release of Years & Years’ third album to get 2022 off to a flier too. 

It’s Years & Years’ first album as a solo project after long-time members Mikey Goldsworthy and Emre Turkmen left last March (though Goldsworthy will remain as a live member and Alexander told the BBC they’re all still friends). The band, originally a five-piece, then a trio for the best part of a decade, is now down to one. 

Shortly after waving goodbye to Goldsworthy and Turkmen last year, Alexander dropped lead single ‘Starstruck’. It might have been out for what’s approaching a year now, but it still sounds refreshing, an instant explosive pop banger. It follows opener ‘Consequences’, an equally-enjoyable squelchy, synthy number that sets the tone for the rest of the record. 

There’s definitely a Kylie influence throughout, with plenty of retro disco-pop and high-NRG vibes—we’re not reinventing the wheel here, even if it is a little different to previous Years & Years releases. Eighties—and to a slightly lesser extent noughties—sounds aren’t in short supply, and house influences crop up often throughout the album, from the opener onwards.

The album ebbs and flows, with some tracks stronger than others. After the (slightly underwhelming) floorfiller ‘Night Call’ which follows ‘Starstruck’, we get a real standout in ‘Intimacy’. Slower than the tracks preceeding it, ‘Intimacy’ shows off Alexander’s generous vocal range and is more tender, showing another side to the record.

‘20 Minutes’ is another highlight. A sexy R&B-infused number, the infectious refrain of “Twenty, twenty minutes” sticks in the brain, and it feels like a diversion from type. ‘Strange and Unusual’ comes after, and is one of the more mellow tracks on the album. It’s very atmospheric and feels like it’s meant to be in a pair with the previous track—they accompany each other perfectly, and land in the correct order on the track-list. 

As can often be the case, the stronger tracks tend not to be singles, ‘Starstruck’ notwithstanding. The one-two-three triple whammy of tracks after ‘Intimacy’, ‘Crave’, ‘Sweet Talker’ and ‘Sooner or Later’, feels slightly underwhelming. ‘Crave’ was described by Alexander as “inhabiting the deranged sexual energy I’ve always wanted”, and that’s a decent summary, even if it doesn’t quite have the oomph of ‘Starstruck’.

That said, ‘Crave’ is probably the best of the trio. The EDM-pop of ‘Sweet Talker’, which turns into something Clean Bandit-esque is a collaboration with Swedish house duo Galantis and surely one written to be a radio hit. Yet it blends into the rest of the album here, with many stronger efforts both preceding and succeeding. 

Latest release ‘Sooner or Later’ fares much the same. It’s a tame electronic track that only really serves as filler, and while not a bad song just never really gets going. It could have been one of the bonus tracks—of which there are three. The catchy ‘Immaculate’, in particular, warrants inclusion on the main album, perhaps at the expense of ‘Sooner or Later’: if you’re not singing “You make it sound so/Immaculate” for days afterwards, you’re simply doing it wrong. It blends Middle Eastern influences with exciting dance-pop, and flows quite nicely into ‘Muscle’, another strong effort.

One thing’s clear: Olly Alexander has some serious talent. It may take time for things to adjust with such a big change in Years & Years’ personnel, but for the first album as a solo project it’s a good start—there’s plenty to enjoy here, and above all it’s plenty of fun. Sure, there are some hits and some misses, but overall a solid effort from one of the men of the moment. 

Night Call arrives 21 January via Polydor.

Grab your copy of the Gigwise print magazine here.

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Photo: Press