Following an over ten-year hiatus, Britain's Busted reunited and delivered 2016's Night Driver, an album that found the former punky boy band having matured into purveyors of slick, '80s-style dance-pop. It was an effective transition, evoking the electro-groove of Daft Punk with a heavy dose of Justin Timberlake's R&B swagger. That said, it didn't really sound much like the band that first grabbed their MTV/TRL fan base in the early 2000s with songs about having a crush on your teacher, kissing an airline stewardess, or being devoted to Britney Spears. It was almost as if they wanted to ignore their slightly embarrassing, frosted-tipped-and-flat-ironed past and prove just how much they'd grown up. With 2019's Half Way There, Busted bandmates Charlie Simpson, James Bourne, and Matt Willis eschew any such claims of probity, and wholly embrace the laddish sound of their early albums with songs built on hooky, guitar-driven choruses and an overall feeling of Friday night fun. Amazingly, Half Way There (a reference to the song "Year 3000" off their eponymous 2002 debut) works as both a wry send-up of the band's roots and an earnest dip into millennial nostalgia. Many of the songs explicitly underline these sentiments, beginning with the reference-packed "Nineties," in which they sing yearningly and not without some cheek about Hypercolor shirts, dubiously rhyme "Smashing Pumpkins" with "Macaulay Culkin," and admit to having at one time prayed to someday meet Kelly Kapowski -- Tiffani Amber Thiessen's character on Saved by the Bell. It's that kind of self-aware minutiae and attention to detail (check out the song's '90s-inspired drumbeat and keyboard intro) that makes Busted's trip down memory lane so unexpectedly rewarding. Similarly, the brightly attenuated "Reunion," with its blink-182-at-Ibiza production, finds the band waxing nostalgic about high school friends, all the while subtly evoking their own return to the stage. There's even a song here that's actually called "Nostalgia," which is ostensibly about a failing relationship, but nonetheless backs up the notion that Half Way There is a self-conscious exercise in pop sentimentality. Thankfully, this concept requires no heavy lifting, and cuts like the driving "Shipwrecked in Atlantis," the heartfelt "Radio," and the '70s-power-pop-esque "Race to Mars" bring to mind exactly the carefree '90s and early-2000s vibe for which Busted are aiming. As they sing on "It Happens": "Flashback to when the guy from NME said nobody would care/And now we're back on the road/The album's almost good to go/And if you're ever feeling low/You know, you know/That it happens."
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