(Island; 2005)

By Alan Baban | 13 January 2008

On average, I’d say I sleep eight hours a night – that is, I’m in my bed eight hours a night, lights but, music off, eyes shut. But actually sleeping is another matter entirely.

Maybe it’s because I think too much. Work, mostly. I will myself to go to sleep, my own voice reverberating across the folds of my brain (‘Sleep! Sleep!’) as I anxiously await the moment when my conscious self is drowned in a sea of dreams. Under the sea, if I’m lucky, I see many things. This one time I saw Ariel from the Little Mermaid. That was a good dream. Hey, and this other time (I think it was mid-April), I dreamt that I had just heard Make Believe --- but it was brilliant! That was a great dream (shattered come mid-May, but nonetheless…).

Most nights, though, I’m just there in my bed – asleep/awake, alternating between checking the clock and counting sheep. Usually, at T-6 hours till dawn, if I’m not already asleep, I’ll put on a record. Girls Can Tell, The Velvet Underground and Black Foliage have all experienced frequent late night spins. I guess it’s just my version of a lullaby.

This all, of course, brings me to Mcfly. Because I’m writing a review of Mcfly’s second album (the word "sophomore" should not be used for boy bands), entitled Wonderland, which I heard at T-6 hours last night.

Mcfly, in case you didn’t know, are a boy band. They will probably fiercely dispute this (‘but we all play our own instruments! And we write our own songs! And we like Oasis!’’) but it is, however, a stone cold fact. Because Mcfly’s core audience are made up of pre-teen girls. I know no guy who likes Mcfly’s music. Sure, we can all appreciate the catchy harmonies, and McCartney-inflected chord progressions, but no music fan is going to wake up one morning and decide to throw on some Mcfly for shower music. It just doesn’t happen.

This is because Mcfly, named after Marty from Back to the Future, make cringe-inducing music. This is candy floss pop music, not so much a euphoric sugar rush, but rather a near-lethal dose of saccharine sapor into your sweetest tooth. And it’s painful.

The best power pop bands – a la The New Pornographers – balance the Sunny Delight with a darker undercurrent, atavistic imagery, use of the Flugelhorn, maybe. There is no equilibrium level in Mcfly’s music, no hard centre to bite through. Their songs are caramelised.

First single "I’ll Be Ok" is predictably, and annoyingly, catchy, and, if the band found a Doc Brown of their own to wheel them back in time, could easily sound track entire seasons of Beverly Hills 90210. The guitars are wet and breezy, and the anaesthetised west coast harmonics undulate in all the right places. Like the rest of the songs here, though, it is steeped in the kind of song writing cliché that belies the moniker of the "Tweenage Beatles" thrown on the band. There might be hooks here, but there only exists enough bait to lure smaller, musically naïve fish and pull them out of the blue.

Occasionally the band tries something more inventive than the usual (Fisher-Price) guitar + (Fisher-Price) bass + (Fisher-Price) drums (Kindergarten) mathematics. "She Falls Asleep," pointlessly divided into two parts, incorporates dense orchestration, but make no mistake, it's still no "Eleanor Rigby"; the band plays it safe with their melodies, seemingly displaying a stout refusal to shuffle their stylistic deck and introduce a smidgeon of dynamism into their songs.

The result, of course, is a radio-friendly batch of boring pop songs, bled white and bloodless.
In the limited, and lackadaisical field of pre-teen pop music, Wonderland might as well be a latency period masterpiece. For all else concerned, though, there really is no point.