Depending on which side of the fence you fall on with You Me At Six, their last handful of albums have exhibited one of two things – they’re either constantly trying to better themselves by sampling new styles across each release, or they just have no clue what they’re doing and have resorted to flying at the seat of their pants while partially influenced by the ever-changing wind of trends. And honestly, going by simple chronological evidence, the latter seems to hold more water; Sinners Never Sleep is without question their best album to date, and the diminishing returns have only come thick and fast after moving away from post-hardcore to more palatable rock sounds. Plus, it’s not like garage-rock and Royal Blood-aping riff-rock wasn’t huge when they released Night People last year. But with that album not ageing gracefully at all and this follow-up coming only about eighteen months after it, you’d hope that VI would finally solidify You Me At Six’s sound to something that could actually work in the long run.
Except that’s not the case at all, because on VI, it comes across like even You Me At Six themselves have less of an idea of what they want than ever. Modern indie seems appropriate as a catch-all term, but when that incorporates bass-led Arctic Monkeys-isms, the polished, synthetic skips of The 1975 and straight-down-the-middle pop-rock, it all congeals into an unfocused and frankly boring mess. Sure, moments of quality are there, but they’re rarely backed up to any significant degree, and when even the catchy hooks that You Me At Six usually have on lock feel noticeably weaker, it’s clearly a regression in almost every sense.
And honestly, it’s difficult to know even where to go from there, as VI has so little in the way of material to discuss either overly positively or negatively. Perhaps the main plus point (and even that’s a stretch) is its best moments are a bit less lumbering than on Night People, and that means that Straight To My Head and 3AM stand pretty unencumbered as snappier radio-friendly hits, and I O U is possibly the best example of the band giving Matt Barnes’ bass a bit more to work with, with a slinky, minimalist hook that actually has a decent amount of seedy atmosphere. But that’s really it for outright praise; this album is so unremarkable that it pretty much fades into the background as quick as it arrives, even with the constant shifts in production styles to presumably spice up the listening experience that, even then, struggles to work.
And with regards to that, it would be tempting to give You Me At Six the benefit of the doubt in their attempts to find something new that works for them, but everything they try becomes afflicted with the pedestrianism that’s plagued their last few albums, partly because the combination of swamp-brown rock production and layers of polish don’t sound good at all, and partly because the band simply don’t know how to use what they have effectively. Back Again is the most blatant example in pushing the popped-out synths and shine right to the front to negate any sort of stable foundation, but then there’s the unnecessary layers of vocal manipulation on Pray For Me and Losing You, and even they can’t help Josh Franceschi sound even somewhat enthused. At least with a track like Fast Forward, it’s the sort of no-frills rock song that tends to suffice for You Me At Six, but that just brings up further issues about how uninteresting this album is, and with lyrics that never draw on any interesting imagery or wordplay, it’s no wonder this all feels so immediately forgettable.
But that may also be because, despite the illusion of taste-testing different sounds, You Me At Six have realised that playing to a set audience will do more for them in the long run. And thus, that’s what comes in droves on the student union rock of VI, an album that plays right into the hands of twentysomething Radio 1 listeners who’ll have no qualms about hearing these songs multiple times a day, and then again at whatever generic indie club nights are on. And considering what You Me At Six once were, a bright, new band whose lack of innovation was made up for by their overriding enthusiasm and ambition, that just feels really, really sad. But, whatever – You Me At Six are big enough to guarantee success with whatever they do, so at least someone’s winning out with this.
For fans of: Royal Blood, Catfish And The Bottlemen, The 1975
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘VI’ by You Me At Six is released on 5th October on AWAL Records.