Welcome back to Retrocution, everyone. If you’re as much of a synthwave junkie as I am, you’ll be well aware that I’m just a bit behind with the subject of this week’s post. See, FM-84 vocalist Ollie Wride released his solo debut, Thanks in Advance, on NewRetroWave Records way back on July 19. And while I listened to it…okay, basically right at midnight when it hit Bandcamp…formulating my opinion on it has taken a bit longer. In the end, though, I think taking a bit of extra time with the album paid off.
If you read our first-half recap post a few weeks back, my feelings on FM-84 will already be known to you. (If you didn’t, my feelings are basically: “they’re terrific, Atlas is one of the better synth albums of the last five years, and I love them.”) Now, I’d be lying if I said Thanks in Advance was one of my most anticipated records of the year; truth be told, I only found out about it the Monday before it released. But thanks to Wride’s prior efforts in FM-84, it jumped right to the top of my queue for the week.
And then, I gave it that first spin, and…huh. I wasn’t sure what I thought of it. There were definitely some terrific tunes on it — “Never Live Without You” and “Back to Life” immediately jumped out as highlights — but overall… did I love it? Was I not that nuts about it? Was it just okay? I couldn’t pinpoint my overall feelings on the thing. But after several more spins over the next not-quite-two-weeks, here’s where I think I come down on it:
Thanks in Advance is a tremendous collection of individual songs that, unfortunately, combine to make just a pretty good album.
Now, I’m well aware this is an odd sentiment for an album that has so many gems. (And reader, let me tell you: some of them really are gems.) Let’s cover some of them first, so I can — hopefully — explain where I’m coming from with that #taek.
Let’s not mince words: you’d be hard-pressed to come up with a better opener than the jubilant “Never Live Without You.” The song picks up right where Atlas left off, with a vehement pacing and the kind of infectiousness that just dares you not to start singing along. Two songs later, the popwave-leaning single, “Back to Life,” makes a strong case for synth song of the year, with pitch-perfect clean guitars, devastatingly catchy melodies, and an unforgettable refrain. These two remain the highest of high points on Thanks in Advance.
And yet, there are plenty of others! The driving, mid-album cut, “Miracle Mile,” feels like the soundtrack to an action-movie training montage the ’80s never actually gave us. There are tracks that skew toward the ballad end of the spectrum (“Luna,” “Hold On”), while others put a greater emphasis on rhythm and groove (“Overcome,” “The Driver”). Wride plays with a diverse array of styles here, but there ultimately winds up being something to like about just about everything here.
I say “just about” because, for my money, there’s one exception. On the mid-album track, “The Rising Tide,” Wride tries his hand at a soulful, uplifting ballad — the kind that, in a parallel universe, might have been used in a campaign to bring people together to…I dunno…save the children, end third world hunger…something like that. (I’m spitballing, but you know the type of song I’m referring to.) The trouble is…this one never really gels across its six-minute run time. Wride’s no slouch with slower songs — the ones he’s done with FM-84…or, hell, even the others on this album…are all pretty solid! — but this one can’t help but feel a bit forced.
“Okay,” you’re thinking, “so Ollie still went 8 for 9. What’s the problem?” You’re not wrong! Taken as individual tracks, the vast majority of the songs on Thanks in Advance are, well…pretty damn terrific! The hold-up is, they don’t always sound like they belong together. Wride’s stylistic diversity is impressive, but it also makes for a bit of an odd sense of flow for the album. After “Back to Life,” for example, every other song is a ballad — and when the songs between the ballads hit the cathartic highs they do (“Miracle Mile,” anyone?), that can make things feel a bit disjointed. (With further listening, though, you start to wonder how much a different sequencing of the tracks would counter this.)
As things stand, Thanks in Advance ends up feeling like slightly less than the sum of its largely excellent individual parts. But thanks to the strength of those individual parts — and to Wride’s immense talent as a vocalist — it’s still an album worth spending some extra time with.