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“Put yourself in a Busted fan’s shoes,” exclaims James Bourne with unrestrained excitement. “They think they’re never getting an album like this again!”
The subject of Bourne’s excitement is ‘Half Way There’, their first collection of supersonic, harmony-rich pop-punk since the trio conquered the world with their second album ‘A Present For Everybody’ in 2003.
Spin ‘Half Way There’ and opening track ‘Nineties’ comes rushing out of the starting blocks. It's a blur of big hooks, pure energy and light-hearted references to Macauley Culkin, the Smashing Pumpkins and the “days of skipping school to watch The Goonies.” The manic pace continues with fantastical tales of being ‘Shipwrecked in Atlantis’ and paying tribute to Elon Musk with ‘A Race To Mars’. Yet this isn’t a carbon copy of exactly where Busted signed off.
Instead, Busted have grown up without growing old. It’s an album that playfully leans towards the nostalgic and the reflective. ‘All My Friends’, for example, looks at how the lives of their old pals have changed some twenty years after school was out forever. But it also possesses the character to drop a cheeky lyric like, “When we talk on FaceTime, I see it on their waistline / And I see it when I’m looking in the mirror too.”
“We’re not old, but we not as young as we used to be,” explains Matt Willis, quoting the track’s most insistent line. “I’m 35, married, with a mortgage and three kids but I still don’t feel like a grown-up. It’s like I’m faking it!”
“Busted songs were often about personal stuff,” adds Charlie Simpson. “‘All My Friends’ is very poignant: looking at who you are, looking at where your friends are, and thinking about what’s important. The people who are listening to our music have grown-up as well, so the things we’re talking about are still appropriate to them.”
That relatable approach is also tangible in the lead single ‘Radio’. Specific songs take you back to a moment, but maybe the person you shared that experience with is no longer in your life. Listening to the radio can therefore prompt memories that are both powerful and bittersweet.
More autobiographical is ‘It Happens’, the album’s emotional finale which charts their journey together. From dreaming of pop stardom to it “being over just as fast as it began” and later commanding the stage at Glastonbury, it encompasses the highs and lows of Busted’s experiences.
“You get fifteen years in three minutes,” exclaims Bourne, a fan of all things time travel. “That’s the coolest thing about the song, the concept of having all that time go by, and to have the three of us sing an autobiographical storyline. The band’s been a big part of our lives and a big part of the fans’ lives too.”
‘It Happens’ also ends the album on an optimistic note – wherever life takes you, there’s always going to be a few welcome and unexpected surprises along the way. It’s clear that it’s a song that reflects Bourne’s surprise at everything that has happened.
“It was unthinkable that we would’ve got back together. It was unthinkable that we’d play Glastonbury. It was even unthinkable that we’d have this fourth album having only had two when we split up.” He pauses, content with where Busted has taken him. “That’s life. Unexpected things happen all the time, and you never know where it’s going.”
To go forward, Busted went back to the very beginning. They commenced writing sessions in Bourne’s flat in North London, where they lived together when they first launched the band. It was “fucked up but brilliant” (Willis) and “trippy” (Bourne), but writing and rewriting with a simple set-up of acoustic guitars and a piano was ideal. As Simpson affirms, “Focusing on the simple elements of a song will always result in good material. And then you work with Gil Norton and everything sounds awesome.”
All three members of Busted admired Norton’s work, especially for Foo Fighters’ ‘The Colour and the Shape’ and Marmozets’ ‘Knowing What You Now Know’, and Bourne had relished working with him before on Son of Dork’s debut. Norton’s meticulous nature resulted in the band playing everything countless times. Meanwhile, his preference for analogue recording techniques and real amps made for what Simpson describes as a “super tight sound that’s also warm and human.”
Bourne interjects: “You can’t hear people playing instruments these days, so you can’t hear that human element. A lot of music now sounds like a computer took a big shit.”
‘Half Way There’ represents the second stage of Busted’s reunion, having first returned in 2016 with ‘Night Driver’, a set of synth-heavy electro-pop anthems recorded for the sheer fun of it. As Bourne hopes, “When ‘Half Way There’ comes out, I think people will look at ‘Night Driver’ and think, wow, they didn’t forget how to be Busted. They just made what they wanted.”
This time, says Willis, the plan was simple: “How do we make the ultimate Busted album?” The result, adds Simpson, “is the record we would’ve made if we hadn’t split up. It’s in-line with the trajectory of where the band was going.”
On a more personal level, ‘Half Way There’ also finds the trio reclaiming their career on their own terms. The first lap around they were young and naïve enough not to realise the control they could’ve had. But they’re not complaining about it. Those decisions helped shape them into the band and the people that they are today.
“And it worked,” declares Willis, still amazed. “We sold out loads of venues and sold loads of records. Eventually it tore Charlie’s heart out and made him leave…”
“But he came back!” hollers Bourne.
It’s only fair for Simpson to have his take on the situation. “I got asked a lot in the time we weren’t together, do you regret joining Busted? I’d always say absolutely no way. The journey we’ve been on has led us here. We’d had an incredibly privileged life in music. It’s a tough industry and we’ve been able to do the most unbelievable things. I wouldn’t change a moment of it.”
“Whatever else we do in life, Busted is part of who we are,” affirms Willis in conclusion. “It’s ingrained in my personality and in who I am. Most people know me as Matt from Busted. That’s my full name.”
“And people still ask what I’m going to do when it’s all over…” sighs Bourne.
“I dunno!” laughs Simpson.
And that’s the point. Fortunes shift, folks move on and you never quite know what’s waiting over the horizon. Busted don’t know what will be happening in the year 3000. They can’t even say what 2020 has in store. But in the here and now, life is good. And that’s enough.