I think this happened to me because when I first heard Former Selves, it sounded like the soundtrack to an uber cheesy 80s afterschool special. It has reverb-soaked drums that literally EVERY pop song had back then, synths upon synths, and even a saxophone solo that wouldn’t be out of place during the sex scene between Tom Cruise and Rebecca De Mornay in Risky Business. Of course, I was stupidly missing the point. This is SUPPOSED to be an 80s throwback! It’s not because its creator had no original ideas, but because the album itself is a commentary on the dangers of nostalgia. The music might be performed through a rearview mirror, but the words very much take place in the now.
This isn’t to say that Full Eclipse doesn’t love his 80s (and early 90s) music. A lot of the fun comes from pointing out influences as the album goes along. I’m sure that with even more listens I’ll find more, but so far, I’ve found allusions to John Carpenter, Talk Talk, Brian Eno, Nick Cave, Wham! and even The X-Files theme song, whether they were intentional or not. In this way, Former Selves reminds me a lot of the TV show Stranger Things. It’s a piece of art that not only brings you back to an 80s framework, it somehow manages to find new stories to tell. This leads me again to the lyrics. At first, I thought they were inessential and rendered the instrumentation of the tracks too busy, but they could not be more important to the overall tone and mood.
There is a bittersweet quality and a persuasive tension within this music. It’s that feeling you get when the romance of your past meets the bitterness of your reality. While listening, I found my mind drifting off to my teenage years when everything felt so alive and possible. Of course this is bullshit, but it’s human nature to sometimes look back and think, “Was that the best it ever was?” Lyrics like “We alone assumed that we could never die” in opening track “Lebenfallen” play with this paradox. We hate ourselves for being so naïve but we long to go back anyway. Ignorance is bliss, after all. The instrumentation is also complimentary in that it’s both beautiful and mournful. The album is best played late at night when your mind is racing. Like the past, it’s hard not to get sucked into it.
What’s frustrating, though, is that the album could be a classic BUT it’s slightly hindered by its length and the vocal performance of Full Eclipse. At over an hour, I found myself getting bored. There are too many instrumental tracks and some songs simply outstay their welcome. The sax solo on “Facing Yourself” is outstanding, but doesn’t earn its seven-minute running time. Full Eclipse, the singer, despite limited appearances, is also hit and miss. Sometimes he nails that Nick Cave baritone croon, and other-times he answers the question, “What has that dude from Aqua been up to these days?” He often sounds like he’s trying WAY too hard to sound profound and it comes off being a tad goofy instead. Alas, I’m nitpicking. It may not all work, but from start to finish Full Eclipse creates a mood and sticks to it. You may not be able to go fully back in time, but this is as good as it’s going to get.
Written by Shawn Thicke
*edited by Kate Erickson