In 2002, when Fearless Records launched their first ‘Punk Goes Pop’ compilation, it served as a harmless diversion from the traditional rock band oeuvre, and gave fans the guilty pleasure of seeing their favourite sad boy four-pieces cut loose and make pretend at being sugar sweet. Seven further entries later, and now it seems like those records were unpaid internships for a couple of alternative bands, who would find a taste for the genre and emerge, pulsating from a pop cocoon to find themselves beautiful, mainstream butterflies.
Step forward then, ‘Last Young Renegade’, a wholly different effort from All Time Low, and their first on what the band call their dream label, Fueled By Ramen. It’s got everything that an All Time Low record should have: emotive music, catchy choruses, and lyrics that scan as well as two pieces of paper with the staples still in them.
It comes to us through a fog of teaser clips and viral videos, packaged with an album cover which looks like rejected concept art from Kendall Jenner‘s controversial Pepsi advert. It’s awash with synths, heartfelt acoustic guitar, and an unending belief in the power of the ‘anthem’.
It’s not fair to claim ‘sell out’ at the notion that a band might dare make a radio-friendly record; reactionary outcries like this often damage new, genuine growth. But, so systematic is the takeover of ‘Last Young Renegade’ that, if you listen closely, you can chart chronologically the influence of pop sounds on rock albums, like the stages of ape becoming man on that t-shirt your dad wears.
The record kicks off with a track of the same name, which is really, really good. If it all ended there you would not be unsatisfied, that’s how catchy and tuneful this song is. Follow-on ‘Drugs & Candy’ keeps a firm hand on the reverb dial, but plays with guitar and drum lines reminiscent of +44. Mid-point ‘Good Times’ could be a cover of a Coldplay song circa 2011, and, by the time we get to the end track – the thumping, electro-marimba-riddled ‘Afterglow’ – the metamorphosis is complete.
It’s a really competent album, well-made, suitably polished, and it will undoubtedly go down well, but where it shines, it lacks innovation. Mid-2000s pop-punk bands were pioneers; every band, including the one you were in with your mates, was following in the sizeable footprint of Patrick Stump et al. All Time Low were once scarecrows, outstanding in their field, but now they’ve been farming for ideas elsewhere and ended up as sheep.
author: Chris Yeoh