Originally written and published by me for Spectrum Culture.
On 2015’s Communion and 2018’s Palo Santo, Years & Years were a trio led by frontman Olly Alexander. But in a trajectory similar to that of Brendon Urie with Panic! at the Disco, Years & Years has since become Alexander’s solo project. He’s now in complete creative control of both his music and acting careers, having appeared in the lead role on Channel 4’s miniseries It’s a Sin in 2021. With his latest studio album Night Call, Alexander tries to embrace and convey what it means to be a gay pop star. From his perspective on this record, it’s pursuing our innermost carnal desires no matter what the cost. Ironically, however, almost everything on Night Call leaves something to be desired.
With the release of “Starstruck” as the album’s lead single nearly a year ago, it was made immediately clear that Alexander’s new music would be a departure from the more conceptually queer pop found on the group’s earlier releases—one that was a little less commercially sustainable than most indie pop. (Years & Years’ last top 5 hit was in 2015.) With the more artsy pop sound found on “Starstruck,” one’s ears could easily predict that an album with a sound more in line with that of Kim Petras or Troye Sivan would follow. And while Alexander did follow through for the most part with that promise on Night Call, it’s hard not to crave—for lack of a better term—something more.
Which is not to say that Night Call is lacking a ballad or something a bit more somber and queer like Sivan’s “The Good Side.” The record is constructed to very easily follow a structure of up-tempo dance-pop and isn’t necessarily lacking anything conceptually this time. It’s just that, in order to truly convey one’s gayest carnal desires through the magic of dance-pop, one has to go beyond just merely the same recycled lyrics and sounds about sweaty dancefloors and giving into temptation. More than half the album just sounds like most of the Queer as Folk soundtrack—the same bad EDM dancefloor track on a loop.
The album’s strongest quality is that it shows Alexander’s true flare for dance-pop, one that he probably would have been better off pursuing from the very beginning. Now it seems like he’s trying to make up for lost time by erasing his indie electronic roots through the overproduced and overzealous storytelling found on Night Call. It’s far from the gay community’s best dancefloor offering, but still far from the worst.
Jeffrey’s favorites from Night Call: “Consequences,” “Starstruck,” “Sweet Talker,” and “20 Minutes”