Not many bands in the pop-punk world really break out into the mainstream successfully. For every Yellowcard and Blink-182 that gets a huge hit and a lucky break, there are hundreds of bands like State Champs and The Story So Far that just can’t find that boost. It’s never for a lack of talent, but rather because of the niche audience that enjoys this particular genre. Many genuinely gifted bands get stuck playing basements and excrutiatingly small venues despite what they have to offer.
All Time Low is not one of those bands. Already nearing their ten year anniversary as a band, they are a group of guys that have had more ups and downs in their career than many of their peers would be lucky enough to have. After a fantastic trio of releases that began with The Party Scene and continued to grow into So Wrong, It’s Right, the band finally found some success with the release of Nothing Personal, which still stands as a fantastic pop-rock record. The major labels came calling, and the group decided to push hard for radio play with last year’s Dirty Work.
However, success eluded them, as did many of their fans, who become jaded after the overly radio-ready release pushed the band further away from pop-rock goodness and closer to the sell-out edge. But then Interscope Records dropped the band, and they found themselves back into the open arms of Hopeless Records. A lot is leaning on Don’t Panic, not the least of which is the reputation of excellent song writers that they once were. So the big question is this: is Don’t Panic the return of the All Time Low we all know and love, or another step towards the abyss of wasted potential?
It gives me no greater joy than to announce that Don’t Panic is a nearly perfect return to form for the band, as the songs crafted here are a potent collection that culls influences from each release in All Time Low‘s catalog, creating an album that sees the band reaching their full potential as a pop-rock unit.
Opener track The Reckless and the Brave showcases the revitalized energy that the band has found, as Alex Gaskarth sings his lungs out about his experience on a major label. His pipes are accented by Jack Barakat’s blistering guitar lines and Rian Dawson’s perfected drumming. The lack of tracks leaning towards the pop-punk spectrum was one of the major drawbacks of Dirty Work, and the first track immediately dispels any fear fans had of a simple rehash.
Oddly enough, two of the weakest tracks can be found right at the beginning, as Backseat Serenade and If These Sheets Were States don’t quite stand out on their own. The former benefits from crafty verses that have a hint of Beatles-esque vocal melodies, but both tracks suffer from weak lyrics. Lines like “Backseat serenade/Dizzy hurricane/Oh God, I’m sick of sleeping alone” don’t feature Gaskarth at his best, as the lyrics come off more corny than clever. The latter of this pair is a prime example of corniness: “This bed’s an island made of feather down/And I’m stuck here alone/With little else but memories of you on memory foam.” Yeesh. Although lyrically weak, both songs are as catchy as herpes.
Speaking of catchy, I’m afraid to mention Somewhere In Neverland because the minute I do, I’ll have to listen to it another four or five times. Gaskarth croons on about his never ending Peter Pan complex of never wanting to grow up, and when he can pen songs such as this, it’s impossible to imagine he will. Featuring one of the most addictive choruses on the record, Somewhere In Neverland hearkens back to So Wrong, It’s Right-era All Time Low, and it’s encouraging to hear their songwriting prowess come back full force.
So Long Soldier is the biggest surprise on the album, running along at a blistering pace only broken up by juicy riffs and a chorus that pays homage to their song Circles released when they were still wee lads in high school. This track also brings to light one of the albums missteps: the guest vocals are overshadowed in almost every instance. Anthony Raneri (from Bayside), whose voice would have complemented Gaskarth’s beautifully, is lost in the background, never making as big of an impact as he could have. This is still a fantastic track, and one of my favorites on Don’t Panic, but the production of Raneri’s voice is befuddling.
Even though The Irony of Choking On A Lifesaver sounds like a solid B-side from Dirty Work, it works as an indication of what All Time Low can do with a pop-rock song thus far into their career. Handclaps and a creative riff anchor the song, leading into the more straightforward To Live and Let Go. The bigger sound that the band is reaching for can be heard throughout, with Gaskarth’s soaring vocals flying high over Dawson’s intense drumming and Barakat’s sporadic guitar lines.
The album highlight, and one of the best songs All Time Low has written is easily found in Outlines. The beautiful guest vocals come courtesy of Jason Vena, the frontman from Acceptance (an under appreciated band that desperately needs to get back together). Dueling vocal duties between Vena and Gaskarth create one of the best written and performed songs in the band’s history, with some of the most powerful lyrics penned by the band: “I’m just a moment/So don’t let me pass you by/We could be a story, in the morning/But we’ll be a legend tonight.”
Even though Don’t Panic has been chugging along beautifully, the last third doesn’t quite live up to the exceptional middle. Thanks To You and Paint You Wings, although serviceable and easily listenable, don’t quite have the lasting power that songs like Outlines and So Long Solider have. Sandwiched in between these two is the gem For Baltimore, an ode to the band’s hometown. One of the singles released before the rest of the album, fans have already gotten a taste of this track, but that doesn’t make it any less replayable. It still stands as one of the greatest songs on the album, boasting a wistful chorus that is enough to make anyone homesick.
Don’t Panic ends on a surprisingly heavy note, as closer So Long, and Thanks for All the Booze has an edge to it that All Time Low has held back until now. The riff leading into the chorus is blistering and aggressive, as is the rest of the track. The band would do well to tap into this angry side more often, as their songwriting abilities could grow exponentially.
If it’s not abundantly clear by now, Don’t Panic is the album that fans were hoping Dirty Work would be. Almost every song features boundless energy that was missing from their previous effort. All Time Low has made it perfectly clear that they still know how to write exceptional pop-punk that encapsulates both sides of the genre. Don’t Panic is a culmination of everything that All Time Low has created up until now, and after ten years, the future still looks surprisingly bright for them. So if you’re one of the fans who was put off by any of their past efforts, heed the album’s name: don’t panic, because Don’t Panic is packed with some of the band’s greatest work to date.