This review was written in 2007 and originally published on AbsolutePunk.net. It has been very minimally edited before being republished.
Let us face the facts: not many music critics want to admit to liking pop-punk. Not even I, the great pop-punk apologist, can say the negative connotation associated with the genre is undeserving. Think about it – from the young and extremely vocal fans, to the piled on guy liner, to the outrageous media stunts – it’s easy to see why the genre has become the leper colony of the music world.
I’ll be the first to admit that this genre saturation, coupled with my ever changing musical tastes, has recently led me away from the pop-punk sound this website is (in)famous for promoting. Hell, I’ll even be the first to admit that it was a lot easier defending why I hated Yellowcard’s last release (Lights and Sounds) than it ever was defending why I loved Ocean Avenue (made me a much smaller target for the scene police too). Yet, as we stand on the cusp of another summer — I find myself searching for the correct words to say the simplest of things: Yellowcard is back in a big, big way.
Paper Walls should be described as a mingling of the band’s previous material. The band has re-grouped with just enough One for the Kids (drumming and lyrics), a pinch of the Underdog EP (melodies), a healthy filling of Ocean Avenue (style and feel), and a tiny portion from only the best parts of Lights and Sounds (instrumentation). The final product is an album that is sure to please the band’s current fans, win back many of the band’s deserters, and even pull my jaded carcass back into their camp. While the new album will probably have no immediate impact on those uninterested in the pop-punk genre, it may have just enough allure to win back many who have written off the sound.
The key to Yellowcard’s success has been their ability to combine a sense of realism with their innate aptitude for writing some of the biggest hooks heard through your stereo. The result is an album not only full of sing-a-longs but also awash with full-bodied emotion. This results in a release that leaves both the casual listener looking for a soundtrack to their summer days, and those looking for more depth in their music, immensely satisfied.
It is only going to take one song to do three things: 1) show off the band’s musical prowess (a feature that continues to set them apart from the rest of the pack), 2) set the mood for the album as a whole, 3) and bring a smile to an old fan’s face. This is fulfilled in the album’s torrid opener: “The Takedown” – an exciting display on the drums, guitar, bass, and violin. Yellowcard wastes no time with pleasantries or long-winded intros. They simply play. Moreover, they play loud … fast … and with a zest that seemed lost in their last outing. The violin sounds strong and audible while only trailing off for a Staring Back-esque guitar solo toward the end of the song … and that is only the beginning.
We progress into the sure-to-be-fan favorite “Fighting,” and (arguably) the catchiest song on the album, “Shrink the World.” Both tracks display vocalist Ryan Key’s quick delivery over mid-to-fast tempo instrumentation. These songs are stylistically similar to many of the tracks found on the band’s breakthrough hit (“Ocean Avenue”) and neither suffer from the repetitiveness found in their biggest failures (Lights and Sounds’ “Down on My Head”). “Keeper” is a mid-tempo ballad on par with (and at times surpassing) Ocean Avenue’s “Only One.” The vocals are some of Mr. Key’s best as he slides notes perfectly in the chorus with an impressive cadence. The album’s rhythm pauses slightly for “Shadows & Regrets,” a song that begins with only an acoustic guitar before diverging into a full orchestra. For anyone that has ever left town only to return and see everything has changed – this song will be your anthem. The band has mastered the art of utilizing simple lyrics to paint vivid images. While one of my main criticisms of Lights and Sounds was an apparent lack of emotion in many of the songs … “Shadows and Regrets” makes up for all of that in spades.
Former bassist Warren Cooke was paid tribute through a slow acoustic number on Ocean Avenue (“Empty Apartment”) and seeing as the “ballad for an ex-band member” was already taken – the band went the opposite route on “Five Becomes Four” (a song believed to be about the band’s former guitarist Ben Harper). The song brings back memories of One for the Kids with its fast paced drumming and leading violin line. The lyrical content addresses the issue in as classy of a manner as possible.
“Afraid” conjures memories of “Way Away” with its violin heavy chorus and melodic pacing. The portion after the bridge may be my favorite part on the entire album as Neal Avron’s production reigns supreme. The back-up vocals and bass are mixed well and while the drumming is easy to pick out as a musical highlight, I think that would be doing a disservice to the notable moments from the rest of the band.
The two minor missteps on the album are probably “Date Line” and “Cut Me, Mick.” However, this is most likely due to the former being the lead-in to the heart-wrenching “Dear Bobbie” (think The Notebook put to music), and the later proceeded by the gigantic sounding “You and Me and One Spotlight.” The aforementioned may be the closest the band gets to re-creating their sound from Lights and Sounds; however, the album’s sequencing allows this track to build in a natural manner and the chorus brings back thoughts of “Powder” and “Rocket” from the Underdog EP. This drum, piano, and orchestra driven track flows into the more guitar powered “Cut Me, Mick.” The song suffers from becoming slightly lyrically predictable and is overshadowed by the album’s title-track, and perfect closer, “Paper Walls.” If you liked “Gifts and Curses” – this will be your new favorite song. The only shortcoming is my latest pet peeve: using the “words like guns” metaphor. However, that one line is easy enough to ignore.
I feel like I have spent the last 4 years watching every “pop-punk” band that spawned from Enema of the State try to make this album. For a genre that continues to leave a bad taste in many mouths … it is about time someone did it right. Summer is almost in full swing and there are not many bands better equipped to draw upon each of their preceding releases and construct an album undeniably mixed with the sun’s rays in mind.
Today: Yellowcard is spelled r.e.d.e.m.p.t.i.o.n.