Although All Time Low seems to have been putting out new albums since you were in elementary school, the rock-pop four-piece is back with the release of the bombastic “Future Hearts,” its sixth studio album. Unexpectedly, the success of band members Alex Gaskarth, Jack Barakat, Rian Dawson and Zack Merrick shows no signs of waning: their latest album has already brought them their first U.K. number-one album, while their first single, “Something’s Gotta Give,” performed well on the U.S. Rock Songs chart.
“Future Hearts” is a move toward a more clear-cut arena rock sound: Gaskarth, the lead singer, even sings, “I’m chasing after rock and roll.” But the band’s change isn’t fully convincing.
Many of the songs on the new album harken back to music from albums as old as “The Party Scene” in 2003, and All Time Low can’t seem to stray away from its reused teen pop-punk formula. The lyrics, as well, are unimaginative and cliched, and although there are some high points on the album, for the most part it flops.
That being said, the fact that All Time Low deviates away from a more mature sound plays to their advantage. The band’s target audience has always been teens, and its lyrics and sound definitely still have an inherent appeal for a younger market. Many songs have a self-deprecating tone to them, like the slower ballad “Tidal Waves.” Here, the lead singer muses, “Falling on my face again / So I know I’m right on track,” adding some welcome humor to the album.
The band goes a step further in catering to their audience on the track “Missing You.” Despite the sweet title, in the first line of the song, Gaskarth casually sings, “I’ve heard that you’ve been self-medicating in the quiet of your room.” “Missing You” quickly turns into a potential anthem for downcast, misfit teens, and finishes with the cheesy albeit encouraging line: “You’ll be missing out and we’ll be missing you.”
Although All Time Low should be praised for its recognition of who its main fan base is, after twelve years on the music scene, the band could have taken the opportunity to develop its sound and maybe attempt to engage an older market.
The most frustrating aspect of “Future Hearts” is the repetitiveness in the melodies and lyrics. Many of the songs are interchangeable, eventually merging into one another. The group also has a tendency to use anarchic, punk-rock buzzwords that don’t have much meaning or impact. For instance, on the angst-filled “Kids in the Dark,” the band sings repeatedly “We’ll never surrender / ‘Cos we’re the kids in the dark.” The track is a poor attempt to convey a rebellious, youthful energy and message that seems, at this point, a little tired.
Tracks like “Runaways” are similarly anarchic in their lyrics: the listener hears the band shout, “They won’t catch us!” Even by looking at the track listing, you can predict what the sound and message of the album will be, with song titles like “Kicking & Screaming,” “Cinderblock Garden” and “Something’s Gotta Give.”
Another downside of “Future Hearts” is that it reflects the musical tendencies of contemporary rock bands that are actually better than All Time Low. The group chanting and strong drums at the beginning of “Cinderblock Garden” are reminiscent of Bastille’s debut album, while the slow guitar-strumming style of “Bail Me Out” sounds similar to “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” by Green Day.
In general, you could easily draw comparisons between All Time Low and other American rock-punk, angst-y bands. The bad news for All Time Low is that it lacks the panache of Imagine Dragons and the intelligent lyrics of Fall Out Boy.
“Future Hearts” is not an entirely weak album. Blink-182’s Mark Hoppus and Good Charlotte’s Joel Maddon are featured on “Tidal Waves” and “Bail Me Out,” respectively. To an extent these collaborations show the band’s progression. All Time Low started out covering Blink-182 when the four members were still in high school, and cite both Good Charlotte and Blink-182 as musical inspirations.
The music also has a certain nostalgic, ’90s boy-band charm, with its natural spunk and the impossibly catchy guitar-driven riffs that we hear on tracks like “Kicking and Screaming.” Songs such as “Cinderblock Garden,” although predictable, are energetic enough to sound like they would fit in well on a ’90s or ’00s teen movie soundtrack, like “Freaky Friday” or “10 Things I Hate About You.” All Time Low is the same band that we are all familiar with, and the group certainly knows how to play to its strengths.
If you’re a follower of the band, you will appreciate “Future Hearts”: it is the old formula with a slightly more evident rock edge, and so it will surely please die-hard fans. However, in the contemporary music scene, All Time Low simply doesn’t match up to the big players in the rock and pop-punk arena. It would not be able to contend with younger newcomers like 5 Seconds of Summer. To ensure its future, the band needs to provide its audience with something new, original, and distinctly “All Time Low.”
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