Does anyone actually want this? People might think they do, but given that the entire purpose of Busted is and was always to get those nostalgia glands throbbing, it’s not exactly a reliable conclusion to draw. Even back when the pop-rock and pop-punk they were so mercenarily emulating, it was telling that Busted always remained firmly in the boyband territory; the sound wasn’t that far from the genuine article in the early 2000s, but both musicianship and lyricism that drew from territory spanning from base to outright stupid was always a heavy implication of the pop machinations behind the scenes to make that sound even more marketable. And considering how well Charlie Simpson did with his pivot into post-hardcore with Fightstar compared to James Bourne’s Son Of Dork doing the exact same thing, you would hope that would be a stark underline for Busted to realise that what they were doing is not needed anymore. But given that hopping onto different trends with 2016’s synthpop comeback album Night Driver didn’t do much for them, the ever-fertile well of nostalgia is ready to be bled dry once again with Half Way There, returning back to the pop-rock pastiches they made their name with, and hoping for the same reaction seeing as the forefront of the mainstream space is running critically low on any other options.
It’s hardly even done subtly either; when the very first song is Nineties, in which Busted believe that listing off various ‘90s bands and pop culture references is a suitable substitute for real songwriting, it shows either the band’s lack of faith in their own writing abilities to construct anything that’s even marginally their own, or a level of laziness that’s set in when they know that such an effort-stripped approach will work. And that really does highlight how shallow and underdeveloped Half Way There is, to the point where even the most basic of pop-rock and pop-punk that at least endeavours to bring something to the table is exponentially more worthwhile than this.
Of course, given that Busted have never been a powerhouse band in terms of innovation or technical songcraft (because why would they be?), it’s hardly a surprise that they’ve gone back to repeating that train of thought wholesale. Hell, Reunion and Shipwrecked In Atlantis might as well be respective sequels to What I Go To School For and Air Hostess with the amount the draw on similar themes and settings, but while not everything is quite that on-the-nose, this album largely feels like the case of a band stunting their own growth and evolution in an effort of Simple Plan proportions to shamelessly and transparently ape their heyday. It’s why any sort of nuance is pitched right out of the window, something that gives an oddly self-congratulatory air to What Happened To Your Band?, or strips away any deeper conversation surrounding climate change or the state of the world on Race To Mars. At least more standard love songs like MIA and Radio are a bit more palatable by sheer virtue of being lower stakes by design, but even then, there’s a juvinility to them that feels awkward, and when tracks like All My Friends and It Happens make it a point to iterate how Busted aren’t going anywhere and how much success they’re currently having, that unfortunately feels like the intention.
That similar intent seeps down to the presentation as well, returning to an archetypal brand of pop-rock that cribs plenty of cues from the pop-punk of the 2000s, but it’s hard to deduce what this really offers, if anything; if this was a new band just starting out, a sound this basic and characterless would be laughed out of the room before they could even get their feet on the ground. To give Busted their dues, there’s probably more energy and sharp guitar work than the majority of John Feldmann’s offerings in modern pop-punk (and that says a lot), but there’s such a flavourlessness to the likes of Nineties and Reunion in the way that they lift liberally from the most nebulous touchstone of pop-punk imaginable, bringing an incredibly populist approach forward but very little else. Factor in the dated electronic embellishments of Race To Mars and the face-screwingly twee twinkles on All My Friends, and what’s already the most sanitised, marketable approximation of the genre becomes even more difficult to stomach. Again, Radio probably does the most right here, with a stable, breathing guitar reminiscent of Green Day’s ballads where Charlie Simpson’s more brash, unpolished vocals are allowed to project some greater emotionality, something that would benefit this album a lot more if that was a more regular occurrence, rather than James Bourne and Matt Willis desperately trying to replicate the nasal goofiness of turn-of-the-millennium pop-punk that, in all honesty, hasn’t aged the most gracefully.
But hey, as long as it placates the fanbase, why bother changing? After all, that’s pretty much the only reason that Half Way There exists; it doesn’t push Busted forward as a band (something that Night Driver did), and it doesn’t add anything at all to the genre conversation, but as far as digging up note-perfect relics from the 2000s goes, it works like gangbusters. But when that one concept is what your entire album is based on, it’s hard to get much enjoyment out of it, given that the only reason it actually exists is to remind the audience of how things were. The fact that it’s almost laughably shallow and conforms to the most basic stereotypes of the genre doesn’t help either, but on the whole, this all paints Busted as a band that are probably best off being left in the past. Even by their standards, there’s nothing here to get invested in, and when the only comeback that they themselves have is references to the past, both their own and of countless other, better bands, that really just says it all.
For fans of: McFly, Simple Plan, 5 Seconds Of Summer
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Half Way There’ by Busted is out now on Juno Music.