Review Summary: I couldn't explain even if I tried.
I watched Pretty in Pink last night. It’s an artefact for a generation never lived; an ‘80s that was (apparently) defined by pop music and longing stares across class borders, rather than bad fashion and stagflation. It’s also home to one of the more perceptive yet insufferable quotes in cinematic history, courtesy of Jon Cryer’s Duckie: ‘They just don't write love songs like they used to
.’ It’s one of those timelessly inattentive quotes that can be uttered today, yesterday, or tomorrow, and still invoke the same platitude about melancholy and the sentiment of yearning for another, forgotten time. It’s nostalgia for a love—and a song—that never existed. It’s the attitude that has fundamentally bankrupted pop songs for as long as I have been alive; as long as my parents have been alive, and for as long as my children will be alive. Because, it seems, some of us can’t appreciate love songs until they’ve had 20 years to collect romantic feelings of a despondent desire, we are left with music that speaks to itself, about nothing, and sounds empty, whether made unconsciously or not.
Which all sounds like a terribly negative segue into assessing the type of music that Francis and the Lights make, because, though they invoke shades of The Psychedelic Furs and Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, they don’t as nakedly or shamelessly prescribe to revivalism as other, lesser bands are wont to do. In their defence, they aren’t that kind of band, though they unconsciously invoke that kind of band’s sound in leaning hard into synthesisers and dull, gossamer vocal hooks. They’re helped and hindered by their association with Bon Iver, whose occasional appearances on Just for Us
is only for conversation and sullying halfway finished hooks and melodies (but that’s another problem, entirely). Nevertheless, Francis Farewell Starlite, a struggling impresario whose latent “Friends” breakthrough was well deserved, resorts to slathering pained expressions of love lost in a sort of despondent, dejected manner that drudges up overuse of ‘nostalgia’ as a descriptor. Its 26-minute length, bellied by the occasional Justin Vernon auto-tuned warble and one-off Rostam co-writer credit, doesn’t leave it to linger too long (thankfully), and gives aggrieved refrains such as ‘scream[ing] so loud … like a lost child
,’ and ‘get[ting] a drink … play[ing] a beat I like / And danc[ing] uncontrollably
’ a casual, imprecise familiarity. Accordingly, nothing arises to command your attention, and further inspection reveals nothing in particular. Besides the title-track, and the general background noise of amiability, Just for Us
falls into that befuddled mess of difficult to locate feelings of emptiness that the majority of these albums tend to collapse into.
Fittingly, consciously obscured melodies that hide a lacking strength or immediateness abound; in all, it’s most reminiscent of 22, a Million
, or James Blake covering Joni Mitchell, or James Blake covering Don McLean. It’s not unpleasant, and those feelings of heartache invoked are palpable, real, and cruelly pleasurable. I ask, though; did he not write “Friends"” Did he not write “May I Have this Dance"” Songs so dramatic and wistful they transcended the John Hughes miasma" Bearing that in mind, though nothing actively offends, or annoys on Just for You
, it’s difficult to resolve one of pop music’s snappiest writer’s instincts with something that seems so inexact in its lyrical matter and so cool in its lacking immediacy and subtleness. Sure, Just for You
isn’t a bad album, but do we remember love songs just because they were good enough"