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11 November 2020

McFly’s Young Dumb Thrills: an artificially wholesome school run soundtrack

Noughties pop-punk boyband McFly, now in their thirties, return to music after a decade with the audio equivalent of a gratitude journal.

By Emily Bootle

Listening to the new McFly album Young Dumb Thrills, my overwhelming feeling was: I would like to be very, very drunk. Preferably outside, in the sunshine, with a large group of friends – but, crucially, past the point of no return.

There’s only one other band in the world like McFly, and that’s Busted. They even merged to tour together in 2014, becoming a sort of marble cake of tattoos, hair gel and jumping while playing electric guitar. This cake, and most of its ingredients, had a best before date of somewhere around 2010. McFly’s first album for a decade recalls that sugary, super-concentrated corniness: momentarily satisfying, but hardly memorable.

The main theme of the album seems to be that everything’s great, actually. Now in their thirties, it would be un-chic for McFly to continue to sing about a “weirdo with five colours in her hair”, and simply untrue to say “obviously, she’s out of my league” (Tom, Danny and Harry are all married with kids; Dougie, always the wildcard, is in a long-term relationship with a model). Instead, via sunny brass, singalong choruses and pop-punk electric guitar, McFly project an air of contentment. It’s trips to Ikea, pub lunch on a Sunday, sitting around a firepit with at least one person wearing a fedora. Lead single and opener “Happiness”, a blissed-out love song, makes itself quite clear lyrically too: “So this is happiness?/Yeah this is happiness/If this is happiness/I don’t mind happiness.”

[see also: Ariana Grande’s Positions: playful, era-capturing R&B from one of our greatest living pop stars]

McFly are unwaveringly cheerful about their stable relationships and school runs, but throughout the album they also make nostalgic references to a headier, more rebellious youth, still with a grin plastered on their faces. “Growing Up”, an up-tempo electric-guitar bonanza sung in the trademark McBusted faux-American accent, has the tagline of a cheesy birthday card: “There’s not much we can do about growing old/But plenty we can do about growing up.” Title track “Young Dumb Thrills”, featuring Jamie T-sound-a-like Rat Boy, seems disingenuous, nestled as it is among all the good clean fun and cappuccinos in bed. Somehow, it’s hard to believe they’re “hoping that some young dumb thrills still get me going”.

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Back in the mid-2000s, McFly and Busted were defined by their synthetic wholesomeness and tween energy: palatably punky combat trousers, oopsy-daisy noises where swearwords should be, and major-key jump-around music. Young Dumb Thrills has pushed on from here aesthetically, reaching the giddy heights of 2009-2011 suburban indie: many of the songs sound as if they belong on the rolling credits of The Inbetweeners, or a video montage of Boardmasters festival. “You’re Not Special”, with its whoops, whoas and 1980s synths, should probably be put on the Made In Chelsea playlist pronto. The anthemic “Head Up” is, again, positivity made manifest, and builds to a mammoth chorus backed by steel drums and layered, chanting vocals. As white-guys-with-guitar tropes go, it’s actually fairly enjoyable to be dunked into an ice-cold pool of imitation Ben Howard, if only to be rescued from an oppressive, decade-long sauna of Ed Sheeran.

“Sink or Sing” is another big-hearted, lads-weekend-in-Pembrokeshire track with a “whoa” chorus. But there are moments when Young Dumb Thrills reverts to a more familiar McFly sound: pink fluffy love song “Mad About You” has a ukulele, yes, but also that Americanised, pitch-perfect male vocal that is comforting and nostalgic. “Like I Can” is a singalong ballad that spends the verses detailing things everyone can do (“anyone can watch a movie”, “plenty of guys can play piano”), only to explain in the chorus the thing not everyone can do is “love you”. It’s sweet, if trite, and also pleasingly the opposite of Shania Twain’s “That Don’t Impress Me Much”.

In the cold light of day, this album sounds more like a musical version of a gratitude journal than a convincing reunion record. But if music festivals ever exist again, McFly are on the bill at 5pm, and I’ve had more than three drinks, I’ll see you there.

[see also: Beabadoobee’s Fake it Flowers: a near-flawless record of YK2 nostalgia]

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