It may be time to declare the strip-mining operation that is the new millennium’s repurposing of ’80s pop culture complete. We live after “Too Many Cooks.” After The Goldbergs. After chillwave. Six years after Jaden Smith’s Karate Kid. Fifteen years after the first M83 album.
Correction: M83’s first two albums could be consumed with nary a flashback to feathered hair and Falkor. Listening to the synthesizer-heavy, shoegaze-influenced space-rock act’s 2003 masterwork Dead Cities, Red Seas, & Lost Ghosts is like scraping away the clutter of culture and time to tap into an eternal reservoir of whatever the feeling is when you suspect you’re starring in a really great movie. It wasn’t until the overt hair-metal swipes and fantasy-film monologues of 2006’s Before the Dawn Heals Us that the musician Anthony Gonzalez began to remind people that what’s now considered Reagan-era kitsch was actually decadence (perhaps not coincidentally, this was the album when M83 went from being a duo to mostly Gonzalez’s solo project). His next two proper full-lengths majestically presided over a wider ’80s revival, and the squeaks-and-sax propulsion of 2011’s “Midnight City” nearly made him a household name—or at the very least, someone whose work 100 percent of the developed world heard in one movie trailer or another.
M83’s follow-up, Junk, has been greeted with a few reviews that seem perplexed and embarrassed at its homages to Punky Brewster, Yngwie Malmsteen, and post-Eagles Glenn Frey. This strikes me as a strange criticism: Listening to M83 always involves the suspension of cool, and if Junk is dorkier than his past few albums, it’s only marginally so. Gonzalez has long seemed to believe that his talent for conjuring swelling grandeur is inseparable from the decade in which he was at the age when the world was all swelling grandeur. So for listeners also born around 1980, his music may actually achieve one of the highest aims of pop, which is to physically deliver adults back into the headspace of childhood. Others’ relationship to the ’80s ephemera in his music will be akin to their relationship with ’80s ephemera more generally, whether characterized by ironic affection or visceral rejection or simple unfamiliarity. Under the junk on Junk is the same adrenaline rush Gonzalez has always provided, delivered with more irreverence than usual but also with occasional brilliance.