McFly – ‘Power To Play’

By Katherine Allvey

McFly are a confusing musical artefact, never quite making it and never quite disappearing.  Originally conceived as cash-calves to the chart-topping and tween-heart-stopping Busted, they were always squarely aimed at children but presented as being more ‘edgy’. They write their own songs, don’t you know. The band aimed to free themselves from their Kids Choice Awards presenting past by going independent from their major label and writing songs citing their love of ‘vintage rock’ to a varying level of success with each project before claiming to be disappearing forever in 2016. While there’s no issue in a band taking a break, or starting off as marketed for a specific audience, McFly have always suffered from a lack of their own defining sound and this problem doesn’t seem to have been solved yet. 

‘Power To Play’ is their seventh studio outing, and after a listen, the question needs to be asked: who are they playing music for? The younger end of the millennial scale may well be excited about this release, driven by their own sepia tinted nostalgia, but many have moved on to harder rock by now or sunk into the mire of the pop charts. McFly also haven’t aimed to do a Take That menopausal appeal reinvention, or a down-with-the-kids TikTok friendly, sample heavy electro effort. It seems to be more of the same old business as usual, which seems like a strange choice given that, musically, the world has moved a million miles since their first release in 2004. Still, as with any album that flips into the Punktastic inbox, they deserve a fair listen away from the baggage of once appearing on Hollyoaks. 

The first single drop, ‘Where Did All The Guitars Go?’ seems promising enough, ignoring the fact that there is a prominent guitar line in the track from the get go in direct contradiction to the song’s title. The chorus is catchy, the riffs have that eighties energy, and the buildup with the repeating ‘rock n roll is good for the soul’ is fun and creates a bit of drama, but there are some shocking missed opportunities here. When there’s even the slightest chance for the lead guitar to come out to play, it’s absolutely sizzling in a University Battle Of The Bands way. Ditto Tom Fletcher, the usual lead vocalist; he has a brilliant indie voice that could grind stone into sand if he let it rip, but he sounds mostly apathetic in this song. It’s supposed to be a despairing rant about the state of the music scene today but the overall tone is mild boredom. McFly followed their lukewarm initial single offering with ‘God Of Rock n Roll’, which, if it were handed to Blink 182 in their heyday, would be fantastic. There’s lyrical cynicism, some of those early nineties cheerleader vibes and a really satisfying bass buildup on the bridge… but then the song morphs into something from a Kiss tribute band at a wedding. Once again, McFly seem to be a tad lost – if you’re going to go full vintage glam hugeness, you have to absolutely commit to it. Likewise, an indie pop-punk take on the power of music needs a measure of jaded weariness to seem authentic. 

On ‘I’m Fine’, Fletcher screams “what do you want from me?” The answer surely must be a sense of your own identity. There’s rare glimpses of genuine emotion on this track but no matter how solid the drumming is or how cute the backing vocals are, there’s a foot-dragging reluctance to the whole rhythm of the track. ‘Honey I’m Home’, their foray into Paul Weller folkiness, is lovely, with the weight carried by simple, raw guitar and a slight growl on the vocals. This would play so well as a dreamy summer hit for the children and grandchildren of Eric Clapton devotees if McFly took that road less travelled. Similarly, ‘Land Of The Bees’ has a sunny, Britpop aura with a touch of classic Cream swirled in there on the riffs between lines on the verses. If they channelled their inner Damon Albarn to make something colourful and slightly grimy, like month old graffiti, then they would be spectacular. ‘Route 55’ also shows they can produce radio friendly, ‘Boys Of Summer’-style driving songs to fill the radio airwaves with sunset, sugary guitar slices. 

“I’ll just say ‘Fuck It!’. Would you like to say ‘fuck it’ with me?” McFly ask on ‘Route 55’, and overwhelmingly the answer is ‘yes!’. Throw off the shackles of your pop band past, put your evident talents to something honest and real rather than producing a muted album of feigned, pre-packaged emotion, and realise your potential with a sound that is completely yours alone.  Until that day comes, we’ll just get more room temperature, confused offerings like this one. 

KATE ALLVEY

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