Three albums in and eight years after their debut major label single Take Shelter was released, you’d assume that Night Call would feel like the continuation of something? Perhaps an expansion of the sound from previous records? Maybe a reinvention not a revelation? Instead, Night Call feels like a debut album, the debut ‘solo’ project for a singer that’s out on their own but strangely decided to keep being referred to as a band. It feels like someone’s first foray into pop music, which isn’t a good thing for anyone who’s followed them up to now.
Before I start talking about the album itself, can we at least all agree that Night Call has some of the worst album art in pop music history? I genuinely cannot believe that someone said yes to that picture…anyway on with the actual music.
Taking Night Call for what it is, as Olly Alexander’s first truly solo endeavor you have 11 (Or 16 on the deluxe version) perfectly serviceable pop records performed by one of the genres most recognizable voices who gives enjoyable performances. At times those songs stayed with me, ‘Night Call’ and ‘See You Again’, at others I’d forgotten about them entirely by the closing fade out ‘Intimacy’ and ’20 Minutes’. It’s pop music at it’s most predictable and accessible, which is certainly fine.
Taking Night Call as the follow up to the house leaning Communion and the excellent off kilter and darker Palo Santo albums though and we have a third album that feels like it’s had the edges sanded off. There’s no danger here, or raw emotion, it’s very pop album by numbers; never moreso than in the catchy but lifeless lead single ‘Starstruck’. Here’s a song that even after throwing Kylie Minogue onto a remix it still feels flat. That said we do have clear standout ‘Crave’ which feels like something from a recent Pet Shop Boys record and ‘Sooner Or Later’ which feels like one of the few moments here that lives up to the driving energy of Olly as a performer. ‘Reflection’ captures a more danceable side of the album too, while the bassline on ‘Muscle’ is an interesting diversion.
I even enjoy ‘Sweet Talker’, the completely predictable collaboration with Galantis, full of frantic strings and high energy, but even tracks like this end up feeling clunky once you dive into the lyrics. ‘You’re such a sweet talker, man of my dreams, tell me where are you, where are you now?’ these tracks end up sounding like a computer generated set of lyrics, algorithm pop music.
I feel really bad picking apart Night Call too, as someone who genuinely thinks Olly Alexander is a star and after being such a big fan of previous album Palo Santo. There’s just nothing with the same emotional depth as songs like ‘All For You’, ‘Hallelujah’ and ‘Sanctify’, or even anything as remotely catchy as ‘Desire’ or ‘Shine’ from Communion.
And if it’s straightforward pop you are going for, then including a second Kylie collaboration ‘A Second to Midnight’ at the end only proves what can happen when someone writes and records a truly great pop record. Perhaps including a set of previous Y&Y hits at the end of the streaming album doesn’t help these songs from being compared to objectively better music.
I really wanted to love Night Call, but save from a handful of enjoyable moments it feels like an album by committee, rather than the next step from one of British pop’s most engaging stars.
Words by Sam Atkins
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