All Time Low’s seventh album arrives with a bit of a tonal shift for the pop-punk quartet. The Baltimore boys switched from Hopeless Records to Fueled by Ramen, joining bands like Panic! At the Disco, Twenty Øne Pilots, Paramore, and Fall Out Boy in the lead up to this release.
Some in the “Hustler” ATL fan base were worried by this, thinking that the band may go to pop with its sound this time around. Luckily, Alex’s mature songwriting and improved vocals plus some subtle instrumental work by Jack, Zach, and Rian provide fans with another solid record, even if it is a bit more pop than we’re used to.
The titular track kicks off the record with one of the more quintessential ATL sounding entries on the album. Way back in February of this year, Jack and Alex did an interview with PopBuzz where they listed hit Netflix series ‘Stranger Things’ as an influence for the album. I don’t know if it’s just me, but I can definitely hear that in this track’s intro guitar rift. It pulls you into this dream-like setting, giving us a bittersweet tale of love and loss.
The first half of the ten song album definitely wins out in my opinion. Dirty Laundry lumbers thoughtfully to its lyrically powerful chorus. As my roommates know, I was not very bullish on this track for a few weeks. But, Alex’s vulnerable lyrics and understated performance sell the introspective vibes in this one. Good Times is a nice nostalgia-themed ride, but it feels like it’s trying too hard to be that song I’ll play at graduation come May of next year. Nice2KnoU is the classic ATL minus the goofiness. It has the ripping guitars of past records, but still contains the spirit of nostalgia laden throughout the 37 minute record.
The back five of the album opens with the self-reflective and introspective “Life of the Party.” This might be my favorite song here due to Alex’s incredible vocals, coupled with some great lyrics. “In a sea of strangers, I can’t find me anymore,” shows Alex’s openness with the down sides of fame and the struggle to remain relevant. Jack provides some great groundwork for the track with some thrashing guitar cues in the chorus. The acoustic version of this track is utterly beautiful, too.
“Nightmares” and “Dark Side of Your Room” haven’t really left their marks on me. Again, you can hear Alex’s musings about getting older and being afraid of the specter of doubt that watches him as he sleeps. Zach provides a solid intro and bass line throughout, helping to get the dark, mysterious theme.
“Ground Control” is the penultimate track and ultimately leaves me wanting a bit more. It’s essentially straight up pop and feels more like Alex is featuring on a Tegan and Sara song. The chorus is catchy, but the verses surprisingly lack any conviction from Alex. I find myself getting bored just talking about it.
Luckily, “Afterglow” provides the album with a smooth sendoff. Jack’s guitar work pulls me in with an enticing intro. The pitter-patter of percussion helps to lead the verses gracefully, setting up Alex’s restrained delivery. There’s even a bit of fun. (the band) in the build up to the second chorus in the auto tuned harmony.
A complaint I have heard leveled against this album is that it never kicks it into classic All Time Low gear. On this I can agree that there were spots where I missed the energetic chorus of “Break Out! Break Out!” or the dramatic breakdown of “Six Feet Under the Stars.” I definitely felt that liveliness would have been welcomed on tracks like “Nightmares,” or “Drugs and Candy,” which felt too restrained for a songs considering the subject matters.
If you are a long-time ATL fan, I’d advise you to give it a few tries before you pass judgement. I enjoyed it, but I don’ think it’s one of their best. My favorite albums in order would now be: So Wrong, It’s Right, Nothing Personal, The Party Scene, Don’t Panic, Future Hearts, Last Young Renegade, and Dirty Work.
Personal Favorites (in no particular order): Last Young Renegade, Dirty Laundry, Nice2KnoU, Life of the Party, and Afterglow.