The difficult third album is an oft-touted phrase throughout the music press. It makes or breaks an artist’s career, supposedly. Think OK Computer, and then think Be Here Now. It’s Django Django’s turn to attempt this difficult feat: their task is made more difficult still by the fact some felt their 2015 sophomore effort, Burn Under Saturn, fell flat after 2012’s Mercury Prize-nominated, electric self-titled debut. Happily, though, they don’t disappoint. In fact, I’d even go as far as to say that in places, this is the best pop music gets.
What’s immediately clear on Marble Skies is that the band have not lost the desire nor ability to experiment. Some work, some don’t. The slower paced nature of ‘Further’ is a nice enough jaunt and a perfectly competent song in itself, but the fact it comes after the lead single ‘Tic Tac Toe’ disrupts the flow of the record. This sounds and feels like the archetypal track eight, but it’s number five.
The same goes for ‘Sundials’. It feels like the perfect album closer or penultimate track — it has some of that dream-pop theme that we saw in Burn Under Saturn, but in an enjoyable quantity. It doesn’t drag, but it doesn’t make you dance. It’s just a good song. But it’s not a track six. Somehow, ‘Further’ disrupts the flow of the album, and ‘Sundials’ disrupts it further still.
So, where are this album’s strengths? The three big ones are tracks seven, eight, and nine — ‘Beam Me Up’, ‘In Your Beat’, and ‘Real Gone’. Those three tracks are all perfect 10s. This is where the band’s experimentation works best. It’s best not to deal with them in order, however, as I’ll explain now.
Think of ‘In Your Beat’ as the party of an amazing evening. Everyone you love is there, and everyone is having the time of their lives. This party will be talked about by you and your mates for years to come. Why though? Why is the ‘In Your Beat’ party so good? Well, because the pre-drinks set everyone up nicely. Pre-drinks are DJ-ed this time by the song ‘Beam Me Up’ — it slowly builds anticipation to what’s yet to come, bringing the tempo of the evening up and down to match the mood of the guests. No one has smashed a glass, there are no spillages. There are just a bunch of people having a nice time, enthusiastic about what’s next. The genius of these two songs is the transition between them. The first time I listened to this album, I did an audio double take after I heard it — you’ll never want to use shuffle again.
You’ve had the fantastic pre-drinks. You’ve had the time of your life at the party. What now? Only the best after-party of your life. This is ‘Real Gone’. It may lack the super smooth transition that the last two tracks did, but it doesn’t matter. It takes you on a journey, building to a chorus that is so powerful, so awe-inspiring, so terrific, that it just washes over you and reminds you what pop music can do to you. This is watching the sunrise at the after-party in mid-June and taking in the evening. ‘Fountains’ then nicely rounds the record off, leaving you satisfied.
With a bit more care and a more tempered approach to experimentation, this could have joined my hall of fame for records, as ‘Real Gone’ entered my hall of fame for songs. In places, this is a brilliant album, showcasing what is possible in pop music. However, even with an enjoyable start and competent songs throughout, pacing issues ruin this record’s chances of perfection.