Subtlety is clearly not a word that’s a part of Strange Talk’s vocabulary. The very first sound Cast Away opens with is a bright, impossible to ignore synth melody that’s about as in-your-face an introduction as you can get. A bombastic drum fill kicks in and suddenly the opening title track bursts in full bloom, revealing itself to be a proudly over-the-top synth pop beast with towering choruses and massive melodies. If an ideal opening track gives the listener a brief introduction to what the album is all about, “Cast Away” demonstrates perfectly the idea behind Strange Talk’s debut: everything needs to sound larger than life.
The tempo rarely slows down in Cast Away and melancholia is an alien concept. The music sounds humongous, is painted with loud, bright colours and and is fueled by intense euphoria and joy. It’s so wide-eyedly idealistic and direct that it’s hard not to embrace it from the get-go, your foot tapping and body moving before you even realise it. Bands bringing back the 1980s is already a cliché in its own right, but Strange Talk is one of the few that adopt the ideals and themes behind the synthpop of the era rather than the production values: they have a downright romantic idea about the power and scale that pop music can have, where refuge in excess through giddily gaudy colours and swooning soundscapes is something to be applauded for rather than shied away from. That singer Stephen Docker’s vocals echo many of the key voices of that period further serves to underline the notion. This is an album where a lyric like “I’m surfing on a rainbow in the sky” can honestly exist and sound absolutely perfect.
If there is a point of criticism to be raised, it’s that Cast Away is a very one-note album. Everything is very bright, loud and hyper-upbeat in the exact same way throughout the running length: once you’ve heard the first song, you know exactly what the rest of the album is like. Sometimes this causes tracks to bleed into one another to form a big, nondescript neon-coloured mush of perky synth riffs: listening to them individually reveals that these songs are not particularly weaker than what came before, but when placed one after another they can start getting samey if you’re not paying attention. The ironic thing is that the album’s only actually weak moment is the one where Strange Talk do try to deviate from the general flow: the ballad piece “Come Back Home” is a clumsy attempt at the token slow moment, offering some deliciously ‘80s-esque guitars but lacking in the excitement and hooks that the rest of the album carries. The closing “Wanted (Dead or Alive)” (not sadly/thankfully a reimagining of the Bon Jovi classic) is another weaker point, albeit only because it feels ill-placed after the seemingly perfect final dance-out “Morning Sun” and gives the album a confusing conclusion, almost like a tacked on bonus track. The chorus in the song, however, is killer enough to stop it being called a weak song per se.
Still, it’s hard to get really negative about the album. It’s simply so ridiculously joyous that it’d take a heart of stone not to be charmed by it to any degree. As much as any music nerd loves to engage with music that tickles our intellect and evokes deep feelings within us, sometimes it does a world of good to simply be washed away by something that’s blindingly direct and straightforward but oh so wonderfully joy-enducing. When things get really great, like the title track or monstrously infectious “So So La La”, we’re talking about pop songs so genuinely good that they already feel like some of the year’s best in that regard. Strange Talk may not be scoring any fine art points with their debut, but if their goal was to encapsulate the musical equivalent of a giddy sugar rush of fun within their songs, their mission has been successful. Whether or not it leaves a lasting impression for ages to come remains to be seen, but for the duration it’s on, Cast Away makes you want to embrace the technicolour world Strange Talk have created around themselves.
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// Notes from the Road
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