So what do you want first, the good or bad news? M’kay. The bad news is there’s nothing on Electric Youth’s début album as good as “A Real Hero”. Although that’s not exactly a jawdropper shocker as it’s one of the most imperial pop treasures of recent memory. Originally graduating from College’s (AKA David Grellier) ’80s inspired Valerie collective way back in 2009 as a word-of-mouth future classic, “Hero” received full honours and a 21-gun salute thanks to its use not once, but twice in Nicolas Winding Refn’s too-cool-for-skool movie Drive. Since then it’s become de rigueur to play it under cover of darkness whilst cloaked in a satin scorpion jacket, chewing on a toothpick and staring enigmatically into the abyss. A loving embrace of analogue chic synths, nightrunner beats and singer Bronwyn Griffin’s hearty salute to Captain “Sully” Sullenberger, the pilot who miraculously landed Flight 1549 on the Hudson river. A stone cold classic and unsurprisingly the VIP Top Cat amongst the crew of Innerworld. But fear not, as the good news is this Youth’s début still has plenty to admire.
As with “A Real Hero”, Innerworld dreams not for our modern age but more for the pioneering, futurist spirit of 1980s electropop. Its dozen ditties shimmy and slide along the same illuminated dancefloors once graced by the likes of Nu Shooz’s “I Can’t Wait”, Shannon’s “Let the Music Play”, When in Rome’s “The Promise”, Alphaville’s “Forever Young” or Eighth Wonder’s “I’m Not Scared”. Though luckily not Debbie Gibson’s actual “Electric Youth”. Magical youthful visions that somehow eternally sound like tomorrow. Their surface may be pastel jumpsuits, fizzy neon, wide-eyed optimism and aching idealism but underneath there’s always a sting of ‘end of the innocence’ sadness.
The five-years of “Self imposed artist development” following “Hero” have given Griffin and childhood sweetheart Austin Garrick a chance to create a consistent, classy pop record. Bookended by instrumentals — the sunriser kiss of “Before Life” and the afterglow embers of “Outro” — almost every track inbetween shines like a glamorous, poolside Europop smash from 1986. Recent single “Runaway” captures our young lovers on the run, likely on rollerskates, blowing bubblegum and dandelions in the last gasp of summer, running from the adults who don’t understand. Romance and escapism are the Bonnie N’ Clyde of Innerworld. Lightly lilting, sugar sweet vocals, cool breeze synths and a future unwritten across outstretched horizons. “Maybe we could just run away / Leave this place for good / Cos we’re both misunderstood.” It’s followed by the fabulously titled “We Are the Youth” which rolls through your neighbourhood like one of the lesser known, more sparkly and pink gangs from The Warriors. ‘The Young’ likely being the gang with the shiniest hair, the Dons of vocal harmonies and elaborate synchronized dancing. “We are the youth / We love to sing / Oh oh oh.” Cheesy as Camembert on paper but it makes for exquisite ‘blue sky’ pop. The drifting, tiny dancer of “Innocence” adds a bittersweet cloud of nostalgia though. It curses the inevitable landslide into adulthood beneath a Godless sky… albeit in the nicest possible way, through a sepia soft, lens flare haze of delicate butterfly strings and bumblebee bass.
So far so fluorescent, but having got their motors running Electric Youth wisely take a few interesting detours. “Without You” is the first to push Innerworld up a gear with pouting, punchy percussion and a slightly sinister electrosnake bassline that shakes you from the cosy, candy coloured daydreams of its predecessors. A jilted lover’s ‘screw you’ to her ex, “You’ll never find another!” It teeters on tragi-disco and delivers a belting, ‘Standing on a mountain and singing your heart out whilst being filmed by a helicopter’ chorus. Majestic. A cover of Irish tunesmith John McGlynn’s waltz “If All She Has Is You” further triggers unexpected chills. An enchanting, theatrical soliloquy, sparse with just vocal and elegiac Vangelis keys, “She waited in vain / A figure in black.” A spectral and curiously forlorn aside. Its oddly unsettling “Mmm mmm” fade all but wraps a macabre black bow around a minor key Greek tragedy.
The final lap around Innerworld subsequently feels quite triumphant. The legendary Vince Clarke sprinkles some space dust and wonky synths over the glittery, yearning 2012 single “The Best Thing” whilst the epic, night drive of “Tomorrow” hotwires the cinematic highways of College with beefy basslines swiped from under John Carpenter’s silvery moustache. A sensual, sleek, dark disco glider. At six minutes it gets a chance to cut free beyond the Pop City limits and delivers one of the album’s most electrifying rides. The Youth can clearly ‘do’ classy pop but more of this night rider off-roading would be most welcome. It’s strong enough you forgive ambient filler “She’s Sleeping Interlude” and the (cough) suspiciously familiar “Another Story” before here come the warm jets of the Mothership… Yes, Electric Youth bid “Au Revoir” as they, er, bid “Bonjour” with “A Real Hero”. As enjoyable as Innerworld is, “Hero” towers over the rest like Godzilla gently patting the head of a midget. Even after a gazillion plays time still seemingly pauses for four-and-a-half minutes just to bask in its glory. As it fades into the rearview mirror, it is thus technically impossible to leave Innerworld without feeling, well, like both “A real hero” and dammit, “A real human being.”
The cool, dreamy Innerworld is a sweet and shiny synth pop sparkler, lovingly crafted with refreshing sincerity and warmth. A loving spoonful antidote to much of 2014’s salacious n’ shameless pop. It’s revivalist yet box fresh, with not an ounce of knowing kitsch, arched cynicism or winking irony which makes it all the more endearing. Though not particularly original — “A Real Hero’s” trademark bass roll makes several appearances — and fluffy as candyfloss in parts there’s enough hooks and heart to make Electric Youth more than just “That Drive band”. But hey, it wouldn’t be such a tragedy to be remembered for one moment that perfect.