Much has been made about All Time Low’s short time spent on a major label. Were there too many cooks in the kitchen? Absolutely. Did the resulting album, Dirty Work, lack the spark that ATL usually bring to the table? Well, yes and no. It’s easy to focus on Dirty Work’s negatives (as they were numerous), but the album also delivered some of the band’s best work to date—“Guts,” “Under A Paper Moon” and “Heroes” are all essential ATL. Now that the band are back in control of their career, they’ve created Don’t Panic, an album that drops any of the pandering pop-radio bait and rightly focuses on the band’s strong suit—upbeat, catchy pop-punk indebted to Blink-182, New Found Glory and Jimmy Eat World with lyrics that actually mean something.
Don’t Panic almost feels like a “greatest hits” album in that the songs touch on all elements of ATL’s career to date. “So Long Soldier” is a blisteringly fast skate-punk tune with killer vocal harmonies reminiscent of early Yellowcard. “Backseat Serenade” is a muscular love song (“You send me reeling/Calling out to you for more/The value of this moment lives in metaphor”) with an instrumental section that brings to mind some of Blink’s best buildups (“Adam’s Song,” anyone?). To those members of the Overcast Kids still wishing for a Fall Out Boy reunion, “Outlines” should scratch that itch—co-written by Patrick Stump, the track is a slick, sassy pop-rock number that could’ve come from Folie a Deux. (Guest vocals from Jason Vena, formerly of Acceptance, make the chorus pop, but we wish Stump himself would’ve sang the hook instead.)
“Thanks To You” is really the quintessential example of what All Time Low ca. 2012 should sound like. It starts off with a great, ’90s-alt-rock guitar lead before settling into a bouncy, mid-tempo groove with Alex Gaskarth emoting, “But there’s this ringing in my head/As the ghost of you hangs over my bed/Thanks to you, I’m not myself/I’m all strung out/That much is clear.” It’s a perfect example of the band fusing together their increased musical prowess and knack for vocal earworms with the lyrical passion so evident on ATL’s early work that fell more and more by the wayside the bigger the band got.
The album isn’t perfect, though; “The Irony Of Choking On A Lifesaver” feels a little too easy considering how far the band have progressed, and album closer “So Long, And Thanks For All The Booze” features some speedy double-time parts but isn’t as memorable as it’s side A counterpart “So Long Soldier.” However, neither of these are as skippable as, say, “Hello, Brooklyn” or “That Girl,” which once again shows the band are improving, even in their weaker areas. Don’t Panic might not become Hustler Club members’ all-time favorite ATL record due to the nostalgia associated with So Wrong, It’s Right or Nothing Personal, but from a purely musical standpoint, there’s no question that this is All Time Low’s best work to date. It’s mightily impressive how far Gaskarth & Co. have come in five years; here’s looking forward to where they’ll be in 2017.
author: Scott Heisel