You Me At Six can do anything they like at this point, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll go down well. Case in point, the transition between their last two albums Sinners Never Sleep and Cavalier Youth, eschewing the hard-edged, almost post-hardcore stylings of the former in favour of breezy, straightforward singalongs tailor-made for the arenas they would eventually end up in. It was by no means a bad album – Lived A Lie and Room To Breathe are still up there with the band’s best, and Carpe Diem remains severely underrated – but given the shake-up from such a successful formula, it left a lot of their fanbase feeling cold.
As a result, Night People feels like an attempt to repair any fractures caused by Cavalier Youth by returning to a meatier, grittier sound. Where that album could occasionally feel a bit vanilla, Night People strives for something fuller and earthier, like the surging anthemia of Plus One or the hazy barroom balladry of Give. Of the supposed hip-hop and classic rock influences that went into making this album, the former is minimal at best (the title track’s drum line, perhaps?) but the latter is almost entirely present, with the roughened guitars of Brand New and Can’t Hold Back and a swagger and strut that’s in much greater supply.
Sadly, that’s where most of the instrumental praise ends though, as despite the additional weight, half of the time it doesn’t feel as though You Me At Six know how to properly manage it. Sure, some extra grit is a good way to recapture a grimy rock edge that was entirely sanded off from their last effort, but Night People‘s take distinctly lacks a prominent flavour, coasting by on mid-paced jaunts rather than trying anything that could really by deemed impressive. Producer Jacquire King also holds some of the blame here, clearly drawing on his work with James Bay and Kings Of Leon rather than City And Colour and Kaleo for the same sort of extremely broad, accessible sound that isn’t exactly egregious, but lacks the necessary acuity to really work. It never hits the level of beige, middle-aged rock that is most definitely a possibility, and there’s at least a bit of hustle to tracks like Swear and Plus One that means that momentum is kept up to a degree, but these examples are few and far between. Coupled with the blatant Cavalier Youth retread Heavy Soul and the unresponsive indie ballad Take On The World, and it leads to You Me At Six’s foray into proper rock containing as many misses as it does hits.
To give them credit though, Night People stands up thematically far more successfully. As ever, the band’s songwriting details the experiences of the modern British twentysomething, but to avoid any real banality, it feels framed by the loose arc of a typical lads’ night out, the chant of the opening title track being the inciting moments before winding down with the quiet, contemplative hangover of Give. It’s an interesting alternative for how Night People as a body of work can be viewed – there’s the trying and subsequent failure to pick up girls (Plus One) and the comforting words of encouragement (Take On The World and Brand New) before the inevitable annoyance posed by the rest of the group (Swear and Can’t Hold Back).
It’s just a shame that the lyrics themselves aren’t exactly held up to the same standard. You Me At Six have always had a bad habit of underwriting when they really can’t afford to, and on Night People it’s more prominent than ever. It could be to illustrate the heady recklessness of the night out, but it feels too broadly sketched to really match the musical canvas. And while Cavalier Youth went in a similar direction in its writing, that was easier to let slide thanks to the openly grand, arena-ready expectations; with its grittier sound, Night People‘s instrumentation can’t connect with the lyrics, and the whole package feels too inaccurate to really hit with force. The title track is a prime example – it’s not a bad song thanks to its thunderous drums and cavernous groove, but any lyrical substance is virtually nonexistent and it drags the track down by a fair amount. It’s why Give is easily one of the best songs here, because there’s tact and restraint in both the lyrics and instrumentation that, while being very sparse in its presentation, hits the sort of pinnacles it needs to to work.
Most of Night People doesn’t do that, and it’s a consistently frustrating listen because of this. At the very least, it does what it needs to superficially, namely serve as You Me At Six’s gateway into a more substantial, rockier sound, and you’d be hard pushed to say that it doesn’t achieve that. It could be a lot better though, and the way that the band have gone about reaching this point isn’t a particularly thrilling one. It’s not bad, but Night People lacks a lot of the connecting factors that You Me At Six’s previous material had that holds it up to this day. Which path that this album unblocks for You Me At Six next remains a mystery as of yet, but it’ll certainly be interesting to see where they go next.
For fans of: Foo Fighters, Twin Atlantic, Kings Of Leon
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Night People’ by You Me At Six is out now on Infectious Music.