Two years ago he was lumped in with the emergent chillwave subgenre but the shameless ebullience of ‘Young Hunger’ suggests that in his heart Hugo Manuel was never part of the too cool for school crowd. By holding off dropping his debut record until now he allowed his blog buzz to dissipate but at least he could go about making the record he wants to make not one precision tooled to fit into the dominant scene. Is it worth the wait? Unfortunately not.
From the rose-tinted cover onwards ‘Young Hunger’ is unabashedly pop, with toe-tapping rhythms and synth lines so glossy you can hear them squeak but it’s a strand of pop that for the most part seeks to recreate past glories rather than imagine an exciting new future. The backing tracks evoke Balearic beaches and 90’s RnB jams with Manuel and an admittedly impressive guestlist drizzled across them. Orlando Higginbotham of Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs appears on ‘My Life is Complete’ but stunning vocal performances have never really been his strongest suit and he brings nothing of real substance here. A similarly low-key Twin Shadow guests on ‘I Owe You This’; a glossy pop banger that would only just squeeze onto his own excellent ‘Confess’.
Arguably the best comes from Glasser on ‘Fall 4 U’, adding ethereal bounce to Manuel’s progressive pop whilst ‘Tell All Your Friends’ makes a decent fist of replicating Passion Pit’s warm summer fun but elsewhere the situation is not as rosy as the artwork makes out, ‘Evening Surrender’ is a grim slow jam, built on little more than synth washes, simple piano and click track and ‘My Girl’ proudly lifts from The Spice Girls ‘Wannabe’ almost word-for-word. It’s fitting for a producer who proudly proclaims his love of Steps and co but hardly a statement of artistic intent.
Not as swaggering as Twin Shadow or as bruised as How To Dress Well, ‘Young Hunger’ pitches itself at an emotional middle ground, the audience for which appears to be anyone who should otherwise know better. Balearic pop lends itself to huge cheesy melodies the best of which Manuel delivers with aplomb but his reliance on synth riffs that were outdated before he was born and a particular electronic vocal effect every time his vocals are required to compete with his myriad guests makes it a curiously self-conscious record
Slight both in length (only 10 real tracks) and in terms of depth, with too many guests and too little diversity ‘Young Hunger’ suggests Chad Valley should have had more than two years off.