By David Flanigan (@DavFlan)
Citing an unprecedented alignment in creative direction, Busted’s long-awaited reunion was confirmed in late 2015, 10 months shy of a decade to the date of their breakup. With frontman Charlie Simpson’s self-imposed exile from any of bandmates James Bourne and Matt Willis’ projects in the interim, including the McBusted supergroup with McFly, and years of vehement insistence that he had little interest in any Busted-related activity, the announcement was a surprising one. Yet, his change of heart suggested that any new Busted material would be at the very least, different enough to warrant perusal.
Swapping pop-punk power-chord riffs and anthemic choruses for analogue synth pulses and drum machines, Busted’s Atari-titled comeback: Night Driver borrows far more from late-70s/early 80s synth-pop than the likes of Blink-182 and Green Day that had such obvious footprints in Busted’s earlier releases. ‘Easy’ is the sole Night Driver cut to take on anything resembling Busted’s original sound.
While dubious on paper, these changes largely work in the band’s favour. ‘On What You’re On’ is an obvious highlight, with its solid hook, surprisingly well-executed saxophone break and copious Daft Punk vocoder more than excuse it for being as much an ode to misused anti-depressants as the woman to whom it is addressed. Even weaker cuts like ‘Out of Our Minds’, or the profoundly unconvincing ‘I Will Break Your Heart’, maintain the album’s very listenable nocturnal aesthetic.
There is little new ground covered in terms of subject matter, however – very nearly every track on the album recounts relationships, failing or otherwise. Night Driver at its core, remains the same old Busted, but offers a more mature, slightly refined take on these topics, in a synth-pop masquerade.
Simpson brings the dour gloom of his solo material, Bourne has shaken a little of his Brendan B. Brown-styled whine, Willis, despite being restricted vocally to supplementary verses and harmonies on chorus hooks (a shame given he has probably the best-aged vocals of the trio), has some of the most telling instrumental contributions, offering stellar bass grooves on ‘On What You’re On’ and ‘Without It’.
Lyrics on the whole are serviceable, with some notable outliers. Bourne’s verse on the opening track: ‘Coming Home’ becomes more toe-curling with every repeated listen: “Went past the Taj Mahal/It’s so fuckin’ beautiful/But I miss my family/There’s nothing else to see”, yet, the pre-chorus of the breakup-anthem ‘Easy’ he shares with Willis is oddly poetic: “No fun when you’re the only one/Love drunk when the other’s sober/No moon when the day has done/No sun when the night is over”.
Without context, ‘Kids With Computers’ is just another bitter censure of the direction of modern pop music, but the track’s auto-tuned vocals and chiptune synth blare on the chorus make it almost a parody of this widely-touted opinion from Busted’s generation, in addition to representing a clear nod to Bourne’s largely-electronic side project: Future Boy.
While Night Driver is one of the more untidily-scrawled of recent love letters to 70s/80s synth-pop, it, at the very least, clearly an honest labour of love. Shelving nostalgia-bait for a modicum of artistic integrity, Busted have crafted a record that walks the road-less-travelled for long-awaited comeback records, in that it does not feel like a cynical re-tread, but a moderately successful and cordially-welcomed stab at innovation.