Review: 'Night Call' a Worthy Addition to the Years & Years Catalogue

by Kevin Schattenkirk

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday January 21, 2022

Review: 'Night Call' a Worthy Addition to the Years & Years Catalogue

Since the excellent "Palo Santo," Years & Years' sophomore album released in 2018, Emre Turkmen and Mikey Goldsworthy departed so the band could be a solo endeavor for singer Olly Alexander. This wasn't particularly surprising, given that Alexander has been upfront about his desire to become a pop star, and now he could maneuver Years & Years in whatever direction he wished, unencumbered.

The openly gay siren has been on track toward achieving stardom, recording noteworthy duets with Pet Shop Boys ("Dreamland" in 2019) and Elton John (on 2021 remake of Pet Shop Boys' "It's a Sin"). Alexander also recently starred in the critically acclaimed BBC limited series "It's a Sin," by Russel T. Davies, the mastermind behind "Queer as Folk." Alexander was heralded for his portrayal of Richie, a young gay man from Isle of Wight who moves to London in the 1980s and liberates himself sexually just as the AIDS epidemic begins to devastate the community.

"Night Call," the new album under the Years & Years banner, positions Alexander for greater exposure, to be sure.

Alexander recently explained that, while in lockdown, "I was writing from a fantastical space, stuck in the same four walls. I wanted to have as much pleasure as possible in the music." As a result, "Night Call," much like "Palo Santo" before it, is replete with uptempo songs, sort of reimagining '80s and '90s pop in a modern context. But where "Palo Santo" could skew melancholy (nothing on the new album is as startlingly vulnerable as the title track or "Here"), "Night Call" feels lighter and, yes, pleasurable in its electro-pop cloaking. These are songs built for gay nightlife.

The album gets into slight trouble lyrically, as Alexander explores similar themes from his past work — which is fine, but there's clearly a unique songwriting voice on the cusp of full realization. For example, "Crave" sounds as if it's addressing a toxic relationship rather than conveying, according to Alexander, any erotic sense of sexual submissiveness. The lyrics play it safe when frank sexuality would have been much more convincing. The same could be said for "20 Minutes," which plays like a fantasy of being swept by desire rather than actually stealing away for a quickie with the irresistible object of that desire.

All that said, the songs are tightly structured, getting in and making their point without overstaying their welcome on the dance floor. What's more, hooks abound — these are memorable tunes, easy to hum or whistle after hearing only once or twice. Alexander's vocal performances build climactically, allowing him to let loose and show off his vocal prowess. His expressive powers often recall George Michael ("Intimacy" and "Strange and Unusual") and Michael Jackson (especially on the opening trio of "Consequences," "Starstruck," and the title track).

Overall, "Night Call" expands upon Years & Years' previous work and suggests even greater potential for Alexander to further develop as a songwriter. Also — those who still purchase music might want to spring for the deluxe edition, as the funky "Muscle," which should've been included on the standard album, is relegated to a mere bonus track.

"Night Call" is available now.

Kevin Schattenkirk is an ethnomusicologist and pop music aficionado.