“Take Back the Night,” it pains me to say, has reversed that equation. Everything falls into place with the arid, mathematical precision of someone trying to change just enough of the arrangement of “Rock With You” to ensure that you will be see it as a ‘reference’ rather than a ‘facsimile’, when it is in fact the latter. Stereogum remarked that it will inevitably be mixed into Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky,” and that insight is truer than it knows: both represent the sound of innovation calcified into replication, all glistening strings and plunkety Chic-style guitars exhumed and reanimated. I don’t have any particularly interesting thoughts about nostalgia as such; it’s neither good nor bad at its core. But it has to function in the right way: if you throw on a Casablanca Records compilation and think to yourself “Huh, no one really makes records like this anymore,” you should check yourself before your next thought is “…and I will take it upon myself to make a song that sounds EXACTLY like one of those records.” Like, I don’t care if you like to restore classic cars, but don’t do it on record, or in front of millions of people.
I’m harder on Justin because, unlike those contemporary Scandinavian punk bands who seem content to churn out serviceable dioramas of 1980s Los Angeles for all eternity, he actually set a precedent of making records that sound like nothing you’d ever heard before. At this point, dude just turned 32, and it sounds like he’s already hit the Rod-Stewart-Great-American-Songbook portion of his career. The track doesn’t care enough to demand your attention; it’s content with being the thing you put on in the background while you are doing other things. And silly me: all this time, I thought Justin wanted to be THE man in my life.