Nostalgia is a powerful force in the entertainment industry but it’s often permeated by cynicism. Someone, somewhere, is probably trying to make a quick buck off your cherished childhood memories, and worse, they’re likely not even putting a lot of effort into it. They probably just think that slapping some live-action on a classic animated film or some fresh young faces on a classic band’s sound is enough to get that nostalgia money and call it a day. It’s exceedingly rare for a work of entertainment/art to pay homage to the past while having enough heart and soul to carve its own imprint onto the pop-culture landscape.
Against all odds, Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming manages to do exactly that.
The secret, if it can be called that, lies in its sincerity and ambition. Anthony Gonzalez (M83’s mastermind) clearly loves the era of music he pays homage to and is not shy about reveling in that love. But he isn’t content to just study and replicate the sounds of the decade of excess. That would have been far too shallow and unambitious. Hurry Up exceeds the inherent limitations of a retro album and establishes itself as a bonafide classic because it is neither a creatively bankrupt retread of the music that inspired it nor a winking meta-take on it.
Gonzalez absorbs his influences, internalizes them, contextualizes them, and paints their neon colors on a widescreen pastel canvas of pulsing synths, jittery guitars, and throbbing electronic drums. He digs deep to examine the power of the music that he loves—the power to elicit feelings of longing, memories of innocence, and the promise of boundless possibility—and strives to recreate that power. The result is an album with almost cinematic evocativeness. It’s as if Hurry Up was meant to be the score to a classic John Hughes film, and not just because it recalls Simple Minds’ classic tune “Don’t You Forget About Me” during the intro of “Reunion”.
What sets Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming apart from both its influences as well as its legion of imitators is its attention to detail. Everything about the album—every synth pad and arpeggio, every drum hit, every dynamic ebb, and flow—feels painstakingly and lovingly constructed for maximum emotional and sonic impact. This attention to detail is particularly impressive in light of the fact that the album has a behemoth 22-song, 70+ minute runtime; another factor that points to the cinematic scope of its ambition. Even the interludes, which might at first listen seem extraneous and expendable, actually serve to tie the album together by immersing the listener deeper into the album’s sonic narrative.
Of course, none of this might have mattered if Gonzalez didn’t write some actual songs to carry the conceptual and sonic framework of the album’s appealing sound. After all, a pop album can only ever be as good as its vocal performance and hooks, and this might be where Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming shines the brightest. The confidence Gonzalez shows here, such as when he goes toe to toe with Zola Jeus on “Intro”, or when he matches the musical slow-burning build to glorious catharsis on “Wait” is almost shocking, especially compared to his more understated vocal performances on previous albums. There’s innate emotional power in a soaring hook and Gonzalez utilizes that power time and again to fuel his personal DeLorean. Pretty much every song on Hurry Up throws out at least a few guaranteed earworms by marrying cascading synths and propulsive percussion to some of the most towering choruses you’ve ever heard.
In retrospect, the 2010s turned out to be the decade where we collectively decided that the ‘80s were back in fashion. The decade gave us Drive, Stranger Things, Synthwave, the return of elastic workout pants as an item of everyday clothing, Kung Fury, a seemingly endless number of music videos bathed in neon light, and these savory basketball uniforms; all of which affectionately and unironically venerated the 1980s and made that decade seem so very cool.
But little of this ‘80s coolness memorabilia had the kind of deep emotional resonance that M83 delivered in spades. In another 30 years if we had to look back on this decade to remind ourselves why it was special, Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming would be near the top of the list, and not just because it pays homage to the glorious ‘80s.