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Music Review: Mario McClean makes electro-goth-pop for lonely dancers on new EP

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Mario McClean, Remember (self-released)

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It’s fascinating how the elements of ‘80s music that once seemed so cheesy — space-age synths, overripe sax solos, robotic programmed drums — have become the building blocks of great modern music.

Case in point: Remember, the new four-song EP by Chicago-via-Columbia singer Mario McClean. Kicking off with the title track, McClean lays on the shimmering keyboards and pulsing electronic beats. But rather than coming off as kitschy, when McClean reminisces about “dancing ‘til the last call at the last bar” with a lost lover, the dark, melodramatic feel of the music actually enhances his heartbroken tale.

That’s the pattern that Remember follows, with McClean, guitarist Rolfe Neigenfind and sax player Declan Sheehy-Moss bathing the lyrics’ loneliness in music that sounds lifted from an angsty ’80s teen movie.

And that’s not meant as a slight.

When the swelling, orchestral synths fall away on the mournful ballad “The Fear & The Fight,” leaving just a floating piano chord, it’s spine-tingling. And the expansive closing tune “The Night” revels in it epic, echoing size, with the icy music rising around McClean’s anguished tale of a lonely man who’s “screaming on the inside” while he’s “dancing through the smoke flowing underneath the flashing lights.”

It’s easy to get swept up in the exaggerated melancholy of Remember, but the EP is by no means perfect. The music is so lush that McClean’s vocals often get lost. He doesn’t project enough power to push through the layered synths. And his cover of Jennifer Paige’s hit “Crush” is completely misguided, sticking too close to the original’s peppy arrangement and damn near torpedoing the whole EP in the process.

But for three of the four tracks on Remember, Mario McClean makes exquisite electro-goth-pop for lonely dancers.

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