"'Night Call' should go down as the album of the season."
Olly Alexander is the epitome pop culture 'slashie', being not only a successful singer-songwriter but also an acclaimed actor and LGBTQIA+ activist/icon. In 2022 he's back fronting his now solo music project Years & Years. And, in Night Call, the Brit has delivered what might be the most euphoric post-lockdown album yet.
Then a trio with Emre Türkmen and Aussie expat Mikey Goldsworthy, Years & Years' debut Communion generated Zeitgeist waves after they won the BBC Music Sound Of 2015 poll – the indelible King, among multiple singles, today their signature hit. The band travelled to Australia behind an ARIA Top 5 LP, playing Splendour In The Grass. In 2018 they returned with Palo Santo, a cerebral concept album bearing a sci-fi theme centring on androids and desire. But, though big in the UK, Palo Santo was inexplicably ignored here – and the tour bypassed Australia. Announcing Night Call last March, Alexander revealed that Türkmen and Goldsworthy would no longer be active band members.
Between albums, Alexander consolidated the acting career that saw him cameo early in Jane Campion's Bright Star, with Ben Whishaw depicting the doomed philosopher poet John Keats. In 2021 he was praised for his portrayal of Ritchie Tozer in Russell T Davies' TV show It's A Sin, exploring how AIDS impacted gay communities in the late '80s. The 31-year-old has since emerged as a tabloid (and bookie) fave to assume the role of Doctor Who from Jodie Whittaker – something he refuted in a GQ story.
In fact, Night Call feels like sonic time travelling. Alexander latterly covered Lady Gaga's The Edge Of Glory for BORN THIS WAY: THE TENTH ANNIVERSARY – and, on Night Call, he again revels in classic sounds associated with queer club subcultures. Alexander contemporises everything from disco (a presser cites Sylvester as an influence) to '80s synth-pop to '90s French touch.
The album's fantasy motif – with Alexander as urban merman – is steeped in nostalgia for partying, picking up and nocturnal pleasure. The opener, Consequences, is a funk pastiche with robo vox.
Night Call's obvious anthem is the heady lead single Starstruck – the deluxe edition entailing a remix with Kylie Minogue (in turn, Alexander duetted on Kylie's A Second To Midnight).
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The title track falls somewhere between The Weeknd's '80s revivalism and La Roux with its shiny synths and disco pulse, as does Sooner Or Later.
Alexander possesses a uniquely soulful voice, expressing deep loneliness and longing. And these sentiments carry Night Call – the vocalist unguarded in the whispery ballad Intimacy, sensual in the slinky groove Crave, and romantic in the delicate bop 20 Minutes. But, while the album's mood overall is emotive and empowering, the tunes themselves aren't always distinct – main producer Mark Ralph's polished 'dance-pop' aesthetic unfortunately appealing more to daytime radio programmers than club DJs. Sweet Talker, Alexander's incongruous collab with Sweden's Galantis, could be an algorithmic EDM take on King.
Still, with Years & Years headlining the postponed Summer Camp Festival ("Australia's first touring pride festival") in February, Night Call should go down as the album of the season. Alexander's promise of release is fulfilled.