There’s a fine line between imitation and innovation. All Time Low had two options: try to be the next Fall Out Boy or try to be All Time Low. They chose the latter and for that, myself along with many others worldwide are eternally happy with this decision. After the band’s breakthrough album, So Wrong It’s Right, pressure mounted on the four young men from Baltimore, Maryland to be the next big crossover act from the scene. What followed were Nothing Personal and Dirty Work, two albums that saw the band go from simply a pop-punk act to spreading its wings and diversifying its sound. Unfortunately, the attempt to write the next big radio hit was not a successful venture and All Time Low had to return to the drawing board. Although not critically as well-received as its predecessors, it showed the band had chops to transition from the Warped Tour crowd to a potentially bigger atmosphere. It was just the early stages of what sets up Don’t Panic, the band’s fifth full-length album to date.
With little outside influence on the album, this is All Time Low in its natural state. From start to finish, the band has crafted an album that feels fresh without alienating its fan base.
When the band started talking about the new album, there were concerns and questions about what direction Don’t Panic would take. Singer/guitarist Alex Gaskarth stated that the album would “…make an album that we felt reflected the best aspects of our previous releases.” We hear that from a lot of bands that say this when talking about a new record, but All Time Low backs it up with the group’s best album to date. After a short major-label run, the band returned to Hopeless Records where it found its most success in the past. The experiences of being on a major label have helped shape the band and mature them to where they know what they want to be and no one is going to influence the course of the band’s career except for them. The band pumps the nostalgia to 11, bringing back sounds reminiscent of Relient K and Yellowcard, all the while maintaining its own brand of music. With little outside influence on the album, this is All Time Low in its natural state. From start to finish, the band has crafted an album that feels fresh without alienating its fan base.
Don’t Panic opens up with the lead single and infectious track “The Reckless And The Brave” which is Gaskarth’s depiction of his time on a major label. Immediately, you can hear how Gaskarth has grown as a songwriter over the years. Channeling his major lyrical influence of rock icon Butch Walker, Gaskarth shows that he has the chops to sustain himself as a writer for years to come. He reveals his displeasure with his time on a major label, singing “Looking back at a life on the other side/I realize that I didn’t fit in/Didn’t hate it but I didn’t quite relate it.” It stands for more than just his position and his feelings, it’s a statement that this band is not content with where the group is and plan on being around for a very long time. The anthemic chorus tells it all as Gaskarth belts “So long live the reckless and the brave/I don’t think I want to be saved.” Releasing this track in the middle of summer was perfect timing; this is the type of song that you blast with the windows down singing along to at the top of your lungs.
”Somewhere In Neverland” is a sure-fire jam to be played live. The catchy track just oozes in pop rock goodness that has All Time Low’s stamp of work written all over it. From the humongous hook to the playful lyrics to the pop-rock charged melody, this is a song that will be sung by thousands every night. In case you missed the literary reference, Gaskarth uses the timeless classic Peter Pan as the subject matter for the song. The lyrics are a relatable subject for those who have grown up from youthful innocence to a real world where responsibilities outweigh the pleasures of freedom and independence. It touches upon the idea of never growing up and doing what you love as long as you’re happy with what you’re doing.
Moving on to one of the standout tracks on the album that definitely turns back the clock to the band’s earlier days is “So Long Soldier.” From the opening guitar riff that reminds the listener of Yellowcard’s “Ocean Avenue,” this is a cut that will resonate with the group’s older fans. It’s an absolute Warped Tour jam. Producer Mike Green really shines on this track by balancing the dynamics between the sleek guitar work, double-time drums from drummer Rian Dawson, and Gaskarth’s powerful vocals. Green’s slick production and pop background (production credits include The Wanted, Anarbor, and Set Your Goals) propels this to the top of the band’s discography. It’s a refreshing and yet all too familiar take on modern pop punk. While recently the “pop-punk” sound has been associated with a more mosh based and hardcore influence, the band reminds us that they can still write a classic catchy pop-punk tune with no problem. Very subtly, you can hear the low harmonies from Bayside’s Anthony Ranieri that complements Gaskarth’s vocals perfectly.
My favorite cut on the album and now my favorite All Time Low song to date is a song called “Outlines.” Featuring Jason Vena of Acceptance, this track is a must-have for anyone that enjoys quality pop-rock. Lyrically and sonically, this song shows what All Time low is really all about. Sincere, fantastic writing with a monstrous hook. It also helps that Patrick Stump of Fall Out Boy fame co-wrote the song, putting his own personal touch on it. The pre-chorus to “Outlines” is absolutely fantastic being highlighted by Jason’s amazing vocals. It is incredible to hear his voice on a track again as he belts “I’m just a moment/So don’t let/Me pass you by/We could be a story for the morning/But a legend tonight.” This song almost sounds like a track that could’ve been easily on Phantoms. Lyrically, this is Gaskarth at his very best. Instead of using sophomoric humor or pop-culture laden references, he’s an open book, wearing his heart on his sleeve which is the All Time Low we have come to love. A neat little fact is that the end of the song, when Vena’s vocals are being sung under Gaskarth, it was all improved by Vena in the studio. This is the song that defines All Time Low in 2012, and it’s amazing to think that the members are only about 24 years old and still have so many years ahead of them.
Despite my overall love for this album, it does have a few missteps. “The Irony Of Choking On A Lifesaver” is a by-the-numbers pop tune that is what made Dirty Work and Nothing Personal lackluster in the eyes of many. It feels safe, unoriginal, and bland. It doesn’t stick to the listener and quite frankly disrupts the flow of the album after the big number of “So Long Soldier.” However, the hits significantly outweigh the clunkers and these miscues are few and far between on Don’t Panic.
This is the record that fans wanted after So Wrong, It’s Right. It’s a little late for some but patience is a virtue so if you were waiting for Don’t Panic to restore your faith in the band, this would be the album to do it. To see the progression of the band from the group’s humble beginnings to now, it makes sense that this album comes out at this time. There are no extra hands in the pot on this album. The members have learned from their past experiences of who they do and don’t want to be. Instead of some bands rehashing old material and trying to gain new fans while ditching their maturing fan base, the band has grown into its sound along with its fans. This is All Time Low at its very best. It’s a tribute to the bands the members grew up on, and one day bands will write tributes to this album.
author: Christian Wagner