Review Summary: Good pop-punk hindered by shaky production and songs that bring nothing new to the band's sound.
It is no secret that throughout the 90s and the current decade, the music industry has pushed volume levels higher and higher. What many musicologists are discovering, however, is that this increase in volume is actually decreasing the audio quality. Everything simply becomes one ambiguous, distorted sound. The music industry has forgotten that the end users of their products have volume knobs too, and in a world where we put our music right against our eardrums, the increase in volume looks bad for our hearing 30 years down the road. But I digress; the topic at hand here is Yellowcard’s Paper Walls
. The band seemingly came out of nowhere with a succession of breakthrough singles from the album Ocean Ave.
- “Way Away”, the title track “Ocean Ave.” and “Only One”. With a strong pop punk sound laced with surprisingly good violin, it seemed Yellowcard had found a small niche in the overflowing, generic pop punk world. Soaking in my preteen angst, I loved Ocean Ave.
After continuing their success with Lights and Sounds
, Yellowcard returns with Paper Walls
, trying to ride the successful formula they have proven with their previous two albums.
Let us return to the problem stated at the beginning of the review. Paper Walls
is a clear example of too much noise, too little clarity. The entire album maxes out the EQ, even the acoustic, supposedly softer songs. This problem becomes apparent within seconds of the album’s beginning. “The Takedown” begins with a simple guitar riff and the rest of the band comes hammering in, with drummer Longineu W. Parsons III, as he prefers to be called, producing a lot of energy. Unfortunately, he drowns out just about everything around him, as the rest of the band’s music is way too simple compared to his drumming style. On the next song, “Fighting”, he plays with Ryan Key’s vocal melody, oddly enough, and while the drumming is creative and tight, it takes away from the melody of Key’s singing. Parsons continually proves himself the most talented member of the band, and it seems that the band limits him, always having to push them along and keep the energy up.
Sadly, the production covers up the only claim to originality that the band has ever had, their violinist Sean Mackin. On earlier releases, Mackin nearly took the role of lead guitarist, most notably on songs like “Breathing”, but here, he becomes slightly more than background noise. Upon listening closely, he produces excellent countermelody as always, but it is so hard to hear and never comes out to the forefront unless he doubles the lead guitar. One of his few moments to shine comes on “Five Becomes Four”, an energetic, pop-punk song where the band finally counterbalances Parsons’ drumming. Easily the best executed song on the album, it keeps energy throughout the entire song. While I was hoping the song might have been a sly reference to some shifting time signatures, it is apparently about former guitarist Ben Harper leaving the band. The only other highlight is the dramatic album closer “Paper Walls”. It begins with light acoustic and angelic female vocals, but quickly becomes another well-executed Yellowcard song. Mackin gets another chance to shine, and the guitar riffs are actually memorable. Here, Parsons plays back for the band, not making complex bass drum accents and simply giving a beat to the band.
Yellowcard deserves some credit for Paper Walls
. The band has a tight sound and surprisingly good chemistry with their constantly shifting lineup. Parsons is the only original member of the band left. Still, they’re writing the same songs that broke through the charts in 2003. What’s more, their lead single “Light Up the Sky” is devoid of catchy hooks and sounds like everyday pop punk. No matter what genre you fall into, sounding like the rest of the pack is never a good thing. “You and Me and One Spotlight” is just a poorly written song, a mundane midtempo crooner. Still, as a whole, the album is a well-executed pop punk album and shows that Yellowcard are better than the average band. If you want to hear their best, however, look elsewhere, because they’ve done better.