Even in a pop culture landscape that runs on a jet-fuel grade of nostalgia, it feels a little early to start looking back to 2008. For the same reason that the idea of a 22-year-old’s memoirs sounds insufferable, reflection tends to benefit from a lot of space and time — we reflect in order to look at the same things from a new perspective, even the knowledge that perspectives change. On his new album under the Metronomy moniker, Joseph Mount looks back to 2008 and the release of Nights Out. The resulting Summer 08 captures that record’s sleek, quirky synthpop with an eye out for sincerity, saving it from falling into that nostalgic trap of lacking self-awareness, but simultaneously keeping it away from real revelations.
Witty, sarcastic self-awareness and winking nostalgia have always been a part of the Metronomy equation. Mount once called Nights Out “a half-arsed concept album about going out and having a crap time,” after all. In the intervening years, 2011’s The English Riviera reveled in a beachy psychedelia, while 2014’s Love Letters got glammy and roughed up the edges. Both albums found cheeky fun in the midst of sounds that drifted away from the dance floor in favor of teasing and teasing out the idiosyncrasies of other pop niches. Like setting up one mirror to look into another, Summer 08 revisits the squiggly dance grooves with that ironic detachment, half-arseing the nostalgia for a half-arsed concept.
The one thing that Mount isn’t half-arseing, though, is the fun, and the one thing he’s serious about is how much fun he’s having. One need look no further than “16 Beat”, a song in which he sings directly to his favorite drum pattern. “See the stars deep in the night/ I think about you all the time,” he coos in that sugary falsetto. If you weren’t paying close enough attention, you’d think this was a love song — the line “I love triangles” might tip it, but maybe not. In fact, you could still probably qualify this as a love song, one between a man and the funky ‘80s dance beat he sings over.
But that seeming sincerity is paired immediately with the arch “Old Skool”, a sneering send-up of party culture. Some “Blue Monday” synths, rubbery bass, and cowbell run a loop Mount uses as a platform to mock London’s West End elite: “Make some money/ Make more money/ With your new friends/ Throw a party,” he sings in a tone that lazily drawls like a kid mocking rich adults. Even if you’re turned off by the sarcasm, the beat is too fun to deny — complete with a scratch break from another vet of mocking the elites, Beastie Boys associate Mix Master Mike. The chunky chords of “Back Together” foreground the reconnected theme, Mount insisting that “we should have made that last” and that you “look at this picture, how well it’s framed.” He proceeds to tell a falsetto version of himself (“hey girl”) that he loves her grad school work and that they should get lunch, before reaching a gloppy disco outro.
But the record fails to keep even that goofy momentum. The monotonous “Hang Me Out to Dry” glosses over Robyn’s dynamic presence, while the five-minute-long “Mick Slow” lives up to its name and snoozes on. “Night Owl” has all the trappings of the bridge for a pop mega-smash, but never finds the appropriately massive hook. The constant falsetto gets to be a bit much on “Love’s Not an Obstacle”, despite its hypnotic, low-running, bubbling bass synths.
After starting strong, Summer 08 fizzles out, much like a failed night on the town — especially a failed night for someone already eight years removed from their prime “going out and having a crap time” nights. The beats start to slow and blend together, much like nights at the club remembered years later. But remembering shitty nights at the club has its own special sort of self-schadenfreude. Mount has a good time mocking himself and loving the music, and both come through loud and clear.
Essential Tracks: “Old Skool”, “Back Together”, and “16 Beat”