In many ways 2010's pop calendar has been the year of the comeback (Kylie, Scissor Sisters), the year of the re-think (Plan B) or the year of the full-on-balls-out-bonkers assault (everything ever to do with Glee and Gaga). Hush a second. It may come as some surprise to receive notification that McFly are the only pop act that have managed to cram comeback, re-think and an all new, full-on-balls-out bonkers assault into one brilliantly unhinged package. A package that includes a ground breaking, revolutionary new 'super' website, one that will change the face of artist fan sites forever. This is McFly version 2.0. Dougie, Danny, Harry and Tom are about to go ballistic once more.
The story begins on the back of their most traditionally rock'nroll album yet. Having vindicated themselves to the usually cynical rock'n'roll fraternity with their last opus Radio:Active - just four boys in a room, playing for their lives, as they began - McFly found themselves in a curious position when putting together album number 5. "Contrary to what a lot of people think, we were signed as a band. We weren't put together," clarifies Tom. Radio:Active had proved a surprise commercial triumph, self-financed, self-curated and self-released, it had opened them up for the first time to a worldwide audience.
The internet began working in McFly's favour. "First MySpace and then Twitter were very kind to us," notes Dougie. Alert to major McFly mutterings on the wire, their live agency booked a string of low key South American dates in support of their last record, their first in the continent. "When we got to Mexico we couldn't quite believe it," says Harry now. "People were camping out for two weeks to buy tickets," adds Danny, "We had to have an escort to our cars in Sao Paulo. 500 fans were waiting at the airport." Without a label or any records released they had become a worldwide hit. "It was complete carnage," says Tom, "In Britain we just hit an immediate market, internationally it seemed like that market had to find us themselves."
18 months ago, McFly decamped to Australia to start work on their new album with Radio:Active producer Jason Perry. "And we realised," says Tom "that, much as we love the material on that album, we didn’t want to just put together part 2 of the same thing. We started becoming obsessed with Prince and Michael Jackson. The South American shows gave us the confidence to step it up a level. We wanted to go worldwide." The sessions were scrapped.
It was time for a major rethink. Back in their home counties base - McFly have always lived a stone's throw from one another - they began demoing material that had a sound reminiscent of 80's power pop. Big, bolshy, even (whisper it) nightclub-ready. It was miles away from what McFly were meant to do next. Meanwhile, their management had been into their old label, Island/Universal, on an entirely unrelated manner, played a couple of these new songs and word began spreading of their strength. "It was nice for us not to be chasing them," says Danny, "they’d always given us the freedom to do what we wanted, but this time we were coming to it on our own terms." They struck a deal with Island soon after, agreeing a ground breaking joint venture and 50/50 partnership between band and label.
It was their label boss that first dropped the name of American R&B super-producer Dallas Austin (Michael Jackson, Madonna, Pink) into the mix as a potential collaborator for this radical shape-shifting of what we have come to expect of McFly. And then things got really interesting. The McFlysters went in an aeroplane to Dallas' home studio in Atlanta and, well, let’s allow Tom to pick up the tale...
"We flew into America from Madrid and from the moment we landed it was mad. We'd heard Dallas had a bit of a party reputation. We got to his studio, an amazing, slightly intimidating place - there were discs for BoyzIIMen and Michael Jackson on the wall - and we played him some demos and explained what we were thinking for the new sound. We clicked instantly. It was all going really well and then he got a text message through on his phone and said "so do you boys want to come and meet Elton John, then?" He was in Atlanta at the time and was supposed to be going for dinner that night. Dallas said he was meeting up with us and Elton said, "OK, bring them along. I’d like to meet them." We were so tired. It’s 10 o'clock at night by now and we're jetlagged."
Danny takes up the story: "It couldn’t have got off to a better start. Elton told us that he played his first ever show at the end of the road we live on. It was such an honour to meet him. Then we went back to the studio and Dallas said "I’m DJing at a club, come!" Then we got into a fight. With the only English man in the club." We should establish here that this was a verbal altercation, no fists were thrown. "We’re lovers, man, not fighters. So we got absolutely smashed."
"And that," says Dougie, "was basically what recording with Dallas was like. Absolutely mad. He's a genuine dude. A genuinely cool guy." "And," adds Danny, "an open door to the best strip clubs in the world."
Yes, McFly were growing up under some auspicious musical wings. "What was amazing to us," says Tom, "was that he really liked and respected us. We recorded the first melody line for Party Girl into his phone in a club. We'd do an hour in the studio and then three hours out somewhere. That one hour in the studio was worth every ten hours we’d done before. On the last night in Atlanta we wrote four songs, singing till 9 in the morning and then we went straight to the airport to fly back. The whole vibe of creativity was amazing."
The new material bares a stunningly robust edge. McFly Version 2.0 isn’t looking to the latest boyband that has emerged in their seven year history as competition anymore. They want to fly out of the radio with all the magical, other-worldly polish of a Black Eyed Peas or a Gaga. That freshness as if pop music was only invented yesterday. They understand that in the age of iTunes every song on an album has to be good enough to withstand the treatment of a tear-jerking rendering amongst the high school kids of Glee. The dextrous R&B flourishes pushed through the divergent medium of a four piece guitar band happened between Dallas Austin and McFly in Atlanta have a touch of the work that Timbaland did with One Republic about them, only a little more riotously teenage and a whole lot more fun.
"We had to learn to be very open-minded about all of this," says Harry, "For the first couple of songs wedid with Dallas we were like "this is not what we do, this sounds totally wrong." Then four hours later you stop over-thinking it and it all starts to work. It felt like a party."
Party Girl is the opening shot of McFly's most confident album yet. If it marks a distinct turnaround in their attitude, it marks a more distinct one in their sound. Packed to the brim with giddy synth rushes and an unmistakeable 'whoah' chorus, it’s like Bad Romance's irresistibly cute if bratty little brother. While each song for the album has been considered on its own merit, every one passes the first listen whistle-test. The blue-eyed soul ballad I'll Be Your Man sees Tom crooning into Hall&Oates falsetto territory ('his vocal on that song actually brings me to tears' says Harry) and the journey-into-space caper End Of The World, with its spoken flight instructor intro and outro, even manages to fling a War of The Worlds sample at the wall. This time out less is certainly not more for McFly. "Every song had to be world class," says Danny.
After the success of the Dallas Austin sessions, chief writers Tom and Danny were unafraid to explore new territories. A writing session with transatlantic urban pop dude Taio Cruz was established, from which second single Shine A Light - think I Gotta Feeling as rendered by Rio-era Duran Duran - was cannily drawn. "We just didn’t have any fear," says Tom, "we learnt to completely rethink what McFly could be."
If their universe is about to get that much bigger, then their virtual world might just even dwarf it. In development for two years, McFly’s new ground breaking website Super City is a masterclass in how to reconvene the pop band in the digital age. To stop seeing the internet as an enemy of music and start seeing it as a friend.
An innovative new universe has been created for them, to the highest spec, with no expense spared, art-directed to within an inch of its life. The interactivity between band and fan goes astral as they each take you into their individual worlds. Forums, demos, original chat, new material and a constant online presence will make them the most connected band to their fans in the universe. Part of this is fiscal - "look, leaks are going to happen whether you like it or not," says Danny, "our idea was if you can't beat them, join them" - and the subscription based site offers a new model to battle the supposed collapse of the music industry. Watch it (Mc)fly.
McFly version 2.0 sound different, act different and think different. Yet they are still reassuringly McFly. "This is what sets pop bands apart from rock bands. We're allowed to be whatever we want to be. We aren't confined by a set of rules or dress codes. And if you're allowed to be anything you want to be, then why not just go for it?"