You Me At Six – ‘VI’ (Album Review)
Learning and growing from past mistakes has always been a running theme in rock music, and You Me At Six are clearly determined to follow that path on VI. Having felt they’d lost their way on last year’s Night People, and fully aware of how quickly the winds of fortune can change in the music business, YMAS decided to come out swinging with their most independent album to date. They say if you want something done right, you should do it yourself.
With just a few days to go until October 5, You Me At Six’s massive fanatical following wants to know: Have these guys done it right?
To be honest, it really depends on when you got into YMAS to begin with. Their first three albums got progressively heavier, ultimately peaking with Sinners Never Sleep back in 2011; Cavalier Youth aimed to sell and did so, hitting the top chart spot in the UK; and after that relatively lightweight showing, Night People’s chunky rock approach felt good at the time – but then again, You Me At Six’s fifth long-player sounds like a band on the ropes after more than a year and a half of consistent play. At this point, You Me At Six seem intent on all but disowning Night People in order to pick up where Cavalier Youth left off.
This means that Cavalier Youth fans might enjoy VI – but those who prefer You Me At Six’s more aggressive side will probably not. This album starts fairly promisingly with Fast Forward; it’s not a gut-puncher, but it’s still thick and ballsy enough to make an impact. Josh Franceschi makes a fair point during the bridge as he sings “I know you miss the old days; the old days are gone,” and his words could easily be directed at certain sections of his own audience. Sinners Never Sleep and Bite My Tongue dropped seven years ago, and demanding repeat performances from any band often directs them into a repetitive, predictable, and stagnant downward spiral.
Allowing bands and artists to do their own independent thing – as YMAS have done here, under their own Underdog imprint – is the ideal. However, that makes much of VI a discomfiting experience. While the thought of You Me At Six going their own way and making this album is completely believable, VI rarely feels like the kind of full-length set you’d expect a band to put out when left totally free to do their own thing.
Most of the time, it sounds like the kind of release a stereotypical committee of cigar-chomping major label overlords would demand of a band with a chart-conquering album in their back catalogue. Pop-addicted listeners will have little quarrel with VI, as long as they’re okay with generic material; on the likes of Back Again, Pray For Me, and Danger, You Me At Six could be any one of the hordes of lame pop acts you’ll hear if you turn on mainstream radio stations during rush hour. Straight To My Head and Predictable are both half-hearted attempts at bland pop-rock; you could imagine middle-aged people dancing ironically to Miracle In The Mourning and 3AM at a wedding reception, although the video for the latter track is genuinely hilarious; and the vocodered a cappella vocal right at the end of closer Losing You is great, but rendered far less effective by the whole track’s overuse of the same effect.
That leaves Fast Forward and I O U, two of four advance singles, to pick up the considerable slack. Under the disappointing weight of everything else, Fast Forward doesn’t do the job – but I O U rescues VI from a grim, shrink-wrapped, and neutered fate thanks to the sleaziest performances You Me At Six have ever come out with. It is absolute filth, and if it doesn’t make you hot under the collar, you should seriously consider swapping your day job for a monastic lifestyle.
VI is going to split You Me At Six’s audience in two. Plenty of people will embrace the change, and rattle off the usual (and valid) arguments about letting creative people make their own decisions, consequences be damned. That’s fair enough – but however you want to look at it, when lined up alongside the rest of You Me At Six’s discography, even Night People, this album sounds too much like a desperate attempt at damage control by a band under the impression that chart performance is the only reliable measure of their ongoing relevance.
With the 10th anniversary of the mainstream-breaking Take Off Your Colours already here, it would be easy to paint You Me At Six as failures should they ever not release a massively popular album. But choosing to measure this band’s success and value in numbers and graphs ignores the fact that their music has touched millions because at their best, You Me At Six can create an overpowering human connection through sound waves alone. But now, while You Me At Six may have felt they lost their way on Night People, in trying to correct their course, they’ve almost – almost – lost their soul.
LTK RATING: 5/10
Pre-order VI (out October 5) on iTunes here.
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