There is nary a more polarizing band in this scene than All Time Low. For me, and I think for many pop-punk fans in the younger generation, this band’s early output made it a beloved group at an important, developmental time in our listening habits. The Party Scene, the Put Up or Shut Up EP, and So Wrong, It’s Right were albums that were constantly in rotation among the years when I first got a car and when I was gaining a sense of independence. Like for so many others, All Time Low was an important group for me during my teenage years.
There’s no denying that things changed for this band, though, when it took off on the strength of singles like “Dear Maria” and “Six Feet Under the Stars” from SWIR. The follow-up to that album, Nothing Personal, was All Time Low’s most important release. Identifying an earnest desire to garner radio play but still remain firmly planted in its pop-punk/pop-rock roots, the band released one of the catchiest albums we’ve heard from this genre in recent memory. Nothing Personal launched the band to a major label despite a poor reception in terms of radio success (it was still a commercial stud, peaking at No. 4 on the Billboard 200), but All Time Low followed it with its weakest album. Its Interscope debut, Dirty Work, was simply a bad idea rolled up into an album. It was overproduced, shallow and a tarnish on the band’s catalog, and I don’t think I’m alone in saying that I wrote the band off after that release. But returning to its original indie powerhouse home, Hopeless Records, has helped All Time Low release as good a bounce-back record as you’ll hear all year in Don’t Panic.
Don’t Panic is most certainly a return to form. Alex Gaskarth has been one of the most talented pop-rock vocalists since All Time Low’s inception, and his prowess shines on this album. From the opening “Reckless and The Brave” to other singles “Somewhere In Neverland” and “For Baltimore,” Gaskarth dominates choruses with his soaring vocals while the band provides a steady backbone of uptempo, guitar-driven pop-rock. Part of Don’t Panic’s allure is a return to more driven musicianship, demonstrated best on “Thanks To You” and the double-time pop-punk number “So Long Solider.”
The tracks with guest vocalists prove to be standouts as much as the leadoff singles. “So Long Soldier” features support from Bayside’s Anthony Raneri, while Cassadee Pope lends a hand to the explosive “Backseat Serenade.” But the most anticipated and best-executed guest spot comes on “Outlines” courtesy of Acceptance’s Jason Vena. The song is one of the poppier and dancier numbers on the record, but Vena sounds great on it as he and Gaskarth seem natural together.
The album isn’t without a few missteps, but “The Irony of Choking On A Lightsaber” is really the only track that isn’t worthy of being on the album. And while it’s to be expected from All Time Low, the album is numbingly repetitive. Each track has the same song structure, and if you take out the surprisingly fast-paced “So Long Soldier,” song lengths only range from 3:09 to 3:45. But like I said, this is to be anticipated, and you know what you’re getting into when you dive into an All Time Low record – you expect to hear accessible songs buoyed by aggressive musicianship, and for this reason, Don’t Panic delivers on a high level.
Every song on this album has the chance to be a single. Every song is highlighted by a melody that will stick in your head longer than you wish. And every song reminds me of years ago, when All Time Low was a beloved band of mine, before I wrote them off after a bad album, and before I welcomed them back because of this shockingly addictive record. You’re not going to get any poetry here, and you’re not going to get any curveballs in terms of songwriting. But Don’t Panic is absolutely the best record All Time Low could have released at this point in its career, and let’s admit it – sugary pop-punk just doesn’t get much better than this.
author: Thomas Nassiff