Progression is a weird concept to grasp, especially when you consider the vast numbers of those who ‘got it right’ alongside those who just fell at the first hurdle. It can also mean different things for everybody, yet for Baltimore quartet All Time Low it just means becoming a better band than the one that presented themselves during the previous record. The Alex Gaskarth-fronted pop punkers, whom we spoke to in March, have just released their new studio recording Future Hearts, but has it been worth the wait? Read on for a full review of the John Feldmann-produced record.
The record opens with the calm and subdued Satellite, its wavy opening chords accompanying Gaskarth as he sings, “wishing on a star that’s just a satellite”. It builds up ever so slowly as Rian Dawson’s pounding drums enter the frame alongside Jack Barakat on guitar and Zack Merrick on bass. A standard “na na na” segment goes on to see the track build up slightly as Gaskarth emphatically sings, “we were just kids, we were just kids singing” alongside pacing drums. Kicking & Screaming follows, energetically pulsating along in traditional pop punk style before Gaskarth introduces us to his “little nightmares”. It proceeds to trudge along in typical All Time Low style as an upbeat verse makes way for a huge chorus in which Gaskarth sings, “I’ve been waiting for you to call”. Although it’s nothing we haven’t heard before, it does carry an extra arena-ready sheen which was missing in older material. This is partly evident in the extra help which Gaskarth’s vocals have received, even if it is rather unnecessary. Lead single Something’s Gotta Give follows, opening with laid back guitars and a slower pace which makes for a huge, sing-a-long chorus. It doesn’t get much more exciting than the chorus, though, rather opting to adhere to all the elements of a standard arena rock song. Catchy vocal melody? Check. Big chorus? Check. Handclap-led drum breakdown? Check. Something’s Gotta Give has it all, yet new single Kids in the Dark takes those elements and builds on them further to produce the best track on the album. “Here we are at the end of the road, a road that’s finally caving in” sings Gaskarth in a rather demure tone, before its huge chorus references “beautiful scars on critical veins”. It sounds like an ode to fans who have struggled with self harm and depression, something which is at once both cliché’d and clever. Runaways goes down the cheesy melody path as it builds further on the grandiose elements presented in previous tracks, ultimately producing a catchy end-product, before Missing You opts to enter ballad territory with strummed acoustics and a light piano melody. “I heard that you’ve been self-medicating in the quiet of your room” starts Gaskarth, before he sings of offering his friendship to help “stitch up your wounds”. It’s an ode to helping eachother out during dark times, yet the song itself unfortunately doesn’t get very far with simple instrumentation taking the helm over any strong lyrical substance.
Cinderblock Garden, Future Hearts’ approximate halfway point, shows the first signs of weakness as faux-anthemic background vocals underpin lyrics aboug “the girl in the cinderblock garden” and finding hope in our darkest moments. It’s nothing unique or special, something we’ve now come to expect from Gaskarth & co. Mark Hoppus collaboration Tidal Waves keeps the pace calm and subdued, something which Hoppus’ recognizable voice is well-suited to. Tidal Waves’ instrumentation is simple, yet it shows elements of a strong collaboration between the band and the Blink-182 co-frontman. The upbeat guitars and catchy handclaps on Don’t You Go hark back to All Time Low’s older material, whereas Bail Me Out sees the band collaborate with Good Charlotte frontman Joel Madden. It’s another slow, laid back track which bears all the hallmarks of a typical All Time Low track, however this time the vocals are devoid of any energy or emotion, having been replaced with a modern pop sheen. It takes the upbeat and positive Dancing With a Wolf to give the record hope, its chorus encompassing quiet, chugging guitars and powerful drumming from the technically skilled Rian Dawson, who is extremely underrated. Penultimate album track The Edge of Tonight leans towards electronics with subdued synths and a sweet melody underpinning “lighters-in-the-air” vocals, before Old Scars / Future Hearts plays the album out on a positive note. “I won’t fade away, be forgotten or be cast away” sings Gaskarth emphatically as the album is given a litle bit more hope upon its close.
Future Hearts may bear a handful of strong songs, such as album highlight Kids in the Dark, yet on the whole it doesn’t really cut it in comparison to previous releases. The songs may be catchy, but they’re also quite formulaic and far too polished for their own liking, especially in the vocal department. Although this sonic polish does add an arena rock sheen to proceedings, it eliminates the fun, raw elements which made All Time Low in the first place.