Taking an extended break can be detrimental in the music industry. The longer the absence, the more overwhelming the hype around an artist’s return builds. It swells to such a point that the hype itself can outshine the actual return. There are ways around this. You can make like Lorde, and drop such a sharp 180 in sound that it leaves fans stunned and immersed in discussion for days following.
Alternatively, you can make like Gang Of Youths and build on the style of music that has made them so beloved and execute it flawlessly.
“The Angel Of 8th Ave.” is, at its core, a love song. It’s about frontman Dave Le'aupepe meeting his now wife, his relocation from Sydney to London, and how those worlds colliding make him feel like a better man. Le’aupepe sings – with that growling voice we’ve all missed so much – about his willingness to thrust himself wholly and recklessly into this love. His voice radiates with unchecked passion with every word, whether it’s uttered in the opening seconds or belted in the climactic final moments.
Like a lot of Gang Of Youths’ best work, including their stunning MTV Unplugged performance, beauty rests in its lyrics. However, “The Angel Of 8th Ave.” isn’t as metaphorically driven as what you might find on The Positions or Go Farther In Lightness. Instead, it seems Le’aupepe is so engulfed in an inferno of love that he delivers his feelings as straight and as unclouded as he can get.
The song opens with Le’aupepe’s version of how he met his wife – “Wasted everyday ‘til you emerged in the park...For the first time in a longtime inside everything stood clear” – before snowballing into his hopes and dreams for a joint future. The repetition of “I wanna lay me down and be lover of the year/In this strange new town, this strange hemisphere” beams of cathartic triumph and an-almost intoxicating abandon of anything else. He thanks her for helping through the loss of his father – “When my old man was near to the end/You loved his broken body the same way I did” – and for helping him find the summer in the usual drear of London climate – “Shook my body from the grave in the festival years of our makeshift parade/Through perpetual fall and immeasurable rain”.
However, a Gang Of Youths song is nothing without its searing guitar riffs, breathless percussion and otherwise lush production – and “The Angel Of 8th Ave.” has all of that in spades. It welcomes you in with inviting strings before ushering in a steady drumline and what will one-day be a signature guitar melody for the band. As Le’aupepe spotlights his love, the instrumentation swirls around him, matching the shimmer in his eyes. Around the three minute mark, crunchy guitars and blockbuster strings take centre stage as Le’aupepe powerfully repeats “There’s heaven in you now”. The song’s subtle new wave elements shine bright enough to note the evolution of Gang Of Youths in their four year absence, but its skeleton is still wholly and unmistakably Gang Of Youths.
The hype around Gang Of Youths’ return was magnitudinous, but the warm strength and bright-eyed love in “The Angel Of 8th Ave.” prove that while their absence was long, it was worth it.
Catch the video for “The Angel Of 8th Ave.” just below.