Pop can be cruel sometimes: Years & Years’ Olly Alexander is still one of the most recognisable figures in the British scene, especially after his lead role in Channel 4 drama It’s A Sin and fronting BBC1’s New Year celebrations, but his last Top 5 hit was in 2015 and his newest record looks like it will come and go without any serious chart impact.
Night Call is the first record since the trio became a solo project, but continuity is provided through producer Mark Ralph. The music is fun and easygoing, whether it’s the title track’s blissful ’80s-style chords, or Make It Out Alive’s sparkling synth line, or the dizzying strings of Sweet Talker (a far better Galantis collaboration than Heartbreak Anthem with Little Mix). When the pace drops the results become more mixed, as Intimacy sports a clumsy riff under melodies that don’t gel while 20 Minutes is nice but forgettable.
The biggest tonal shift between Palo Santo and the present day is that any pretence of wider artistry is gone. Granted, If You’re Over Me sounded like many other pop songs of the era, but it was bound up in a heady concept about androids and spirituality, whereas Night Call, for all its merits, is a selection of pop songs that have no meaningful connection and which one could hear anywhere.
The most original song on the record is Crave, as distorted piano and synth sounds mesh with a swooning top line. The beat is reminiscent of an electro-pop stomper from 2011 – which would surely be in keeping with any respectable gay club’s playlist – and the post-hook brings a surprisingly baroque chord sequence to the table. Moments like these make the case for Alexander as a distinctive artist, but they’re few and far between.