Above the Noise

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Having outlasted the career longevity of Busted, the band they initially imitated, by some considerable distance, teen idol four-piece McFly find themselves at a crossroads with their fifth studio album, Above the Noise. While their debut, Room on the 3rd Floor, and follow-up, Wonderland, positioned them as a modern-day Monkees, their subsequent two attempts to distance themselves from their bubblegum pop past have adhered to the law of diminishing returns, with both Motion in the Ocean and Radio:Active failing to occupy the charts for more than a couple of weeks, while their rather unorthodox marketing activities (giving away their last LP free with a middle-market Sunday newspaper, creating their own subscription-based website) don't seem to have attracted the new wave of fans they were obviously aiming for. Now, with Take That sewing up the AOR market, and newcomers JLS and the Wanted dominating the teen audience, their position in the boy-band spectrum seems more insecure than ever. However, inspired by the ubiquitous urban-pop scene of the last two years, Tom, Danny, Dougie, and Harry have ditched the guitars, almost, in favor of high-energy synths and electro beats in a surprising but perhaps all too necessary career invention on the colorful and unpredictable Above the Noise. With its "woah-oh-ohs" and Dallas Austin dance-led production, you'd be forgiven for thinking first single "Party Girl" was the new record from Lady Gaga, rather than the band responsible for the blink-182-style punk-pop of previous album leadoff "One for the Radio." Indeed, despite the inclusion of Jason Perry, former lead singer of British rock band A, on production duties, with the exception of the War of the Worlds-sampling opener "End of the World," there's very little trace of their slightly alternative past. "I Need a Woman" is a surprisingly competent stab at a soulful Motown-esque ballad; the pulsating "Nowhere Left to Run" echoes the anthemic sound of a dance club floor-filler; while the falsetto-led "This Song" is a melodic R&B number whose shuffling rhythms and seductive guitar riffs owe more than a nod to Marvin Gaye's "Sexual Healing." The genre-straddling nature of the album doesn't always prove so successful. "I'll Be Your Man" is a plodding '80s retro-style midtempo number that wanders aimlessly in search of a chorus, while more effort appears to have gone into the Britney Spears-esque risqué title of "If U C Kate" than the rather forgettable song itself. But as calculated as the change in direction may be, its infectious hooks and melodic sound makes Above the Noise McFly's most consistently strong collection of songs in their six-year career. Whether it will be enough to prevent their worrying sales decline remains to be seen, but by embracing their pop sensibilities, they've at least given themselves a fighting chance of competing with their contemporaries.

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