I have a very vivid memory of M83′s previous album Before the Dawn Heals Us being played at a thunderous volume while sleeping at a friend’s house early one morning, and it shook through the drunken spillover of the night before as if the ceiling inside my head was about to cave in. With Saturdays = Youth, Anthony Gonazalez poises himself to revisit his own adolescence, as if he were Bender, fist in air in the final scene of the Breakfast Club, making a soundtrack to his own eighties film.
For Saturdays = Youth, Gonzalez indulges in his own adolescent nostalgia for a decade that some of us remember for shoulder pads, synth bands and more importantly, John Hughes films. His attempt to capture the essence of those times is not only present in the music, but even down to the Molly-Ringwald-in-a-prom-dress lookalike on the album cover. Working with two separate producers, Ken Thomas who has worked with Cocteau Twins and and Ewan Pearson, a dance producer who’s worked with Ladytron and The Rapture has given Saturdays=Youth a weirdly eclectic feel as the album drifts between layered operatic pieces and eighties-influenced electronic pop.
Saturdays = Youth harnesses the same atmospheric tension that made Before the Dawn Heals Us so captivating, but with a more immediate edge. Using the phrase “Saturdays = Youth” as an inspiration for the new direction has turned M83 into an unlikely pop outfit. Straight-out synth-pop songs like “Kim & Jessie” and “Graveyard Girl” sound uncannily like Tears for Fears and OMD. You can’t help but hear these two tracks and place them within the context of Pretty in Pink or Sixteen Candles and think “ok, this is where they dance”, “this is where they get chased down a back alley by the cops” even down to the teen angst uncertainty of the spoken-word piece in the middle of “Graveyard Girl” .
There’s still the familiar touches of Before the Dawn Heals in tracks like “We Own The Sky” and “Highway of Endless Dreams” which head in a ethereal slash shoegazer feel bringing up visions of Dead Can Dance covering My Bloody Valentine, and it’s this state that most of Saturdays… inhibits. The sweet piano ballad “Too Late” is an unexpected moment, rising above the latent gloom. It’s a shame that towards the end of the album Gonzalez ultimately fails to deliver a ‘Don’t You Forget About Me’ moment that would unify the tracks and give it a satisfactory finish.
It may be a certain naivety on the listener’s part to think that Saturdays… was going to be more celebration than introspection, or perhaps a more subtle version of VH1’s “We Love the 80s” as seen through the eyes of a French teenager. Saturdays = Youth still retains the same cinematic ambience that is Gonzalez’s trademark with some truly enjoyable moments but what promises to be a summer day in the park turns out to be a dark night in the bedroom with nary a Molly Ringwald in sight.