After splitting with Interscope and returning to the haven of their original label, Hopeless, one might expect All Time Low to turn their back on the glossy, radio-ready take on emo-pop they had exhibited on previous album Dirty Work. They really didn’t, though, and Don’t Panic is another hot and stadium-ready album that should connect with those who like their emo-pop very, very heavy on the pop. All Time Low may have started out with a bit more punk in the equation but now, thanks to the kind of songs they’re writing, and they way they produce them, there is only a slight hint of punk that comes through in vocalist Alex Gaskarth’s occasional snarl and the one or two times a guitar breaks out of the layers of sound and makes some real noise. Mostly, though, the sound is closer to Bon Jovi (check “Backseat Serenade” if that sounds like a stretch) than it is to the Damned, more like Boston than Buzzcocks, and honestly, that’s not a bad thing. It’s almost too easy to make a stripped-down, raw punk album; it’s much harder to make a super-processed, laboratory-clean record that still works as well as Don’t Panic does. There are many factors that contribute to the album’s success. The songs are consistently hooky to the point of distraction, Gaskarth’s vocals are perfectly pitched between dreamy and intense, the wall of sound production is impressively punchy, with almost no modern trickery, and the lyrics strike a good balance of emo moping and sweetly desperate romanticism. That almost every song sounds like it could be a radio hit, especially the Peter Pan-referencing “Somewhere in Neverland” or the dynamic “For Baltimore,” is also a huge point in the band’s favor. Leaving a major label and slinking back to an indie can often be seen as a retreat or a failure, but All Time Low swallowed their pride, rededicated themselves, and ended up making the best record yet in a very consistently satisfying career.
author: Tim Sendra