Review Summary: While Acrophobe is only 31 minutes long, Bad Astronaut get more done than most pop-punk bands do in albums twice that long.
Had Bad Astronaut not been compiled of alt-rock/pop-punk veterans, then their debut album Acrophobe would no doubt be called one of pop-punk’s most mature debut albums. Hell, regardless of the experienced band members from the likes of Lagwagon, Nerf Herder and The Ataris, it would be easy to understand why their debut would be hailed as a landmark of the genre of pop punk, despite the band somewhat walked away from, or even grew out of, that title. But if one needs a reminder of why Bad Astronaut, most recently a more thoughtful alternative rock band, was one of the most promising pop punk bands of the new millennium, look no further than Acrophobe.
Influences galore collide on this album, and they all shine very brightly and are equally as effective. One of the most obvious influences is pop-punk, brought down from the Lagwagon/Ataris combination. Whether it’s an up-tempo, incredibly catchy pop-punk number, with the likes of the opener “Greg’s Estate”, the formulaic but very enjoyable “Grey Suits”, or in the unlikely form of a cover of Elliott Smith’s “Needle in the Hay” (which eschews Smith’s subtleties and replaces it with in-your-face ferocity and attitude, remaining different from the original but no less effective), Bad Astronaut know how to dance around what becomes suiting to the genre and what doesn’t, and remains spot-on every time. While pop-punk has become somewhat contrived over the decades, Bad Astronaut breathe a refreshing blast of genuine passion, rhythm, and cutting edge into the genre, something that this album should be praised for.
But when the band slows things down a bit, and casts aside the speed and ferocity (but not rhythm), this is where the band is most effective. While the 1:10 song “Quiet”, with nothing more than a piano and soft, swaying vocals, might seem hard to top in terms of effectiveness, there’s a particular stretch of four songs that showcase the band’s slower side excellently, almost flawlessly. From “Only Good for A…” to the finale “Unlucky Stuntman”, the band’s softer side is clearly dominant, and the results are all equally incredible. “Deformed” sounds like something that Jawbreaker would play around, with it’s incredibly poignant interlude, while “Logan’s Run” follows the same formula, with it’s beautiful instrumental interlude, but cranks the volume up on the other parts, resulting in a more epic and thoughtful approach. But it’s “Unlucky Stuntman”, a minor-key anthem that perfectly balances pop-punk fist-pumping, elegance, and epic progression. Easily the best song on the album, seeing as how it incorporates the band’s sounds perfectly into one grand song.
While Acrophobe is only 31 minutes long, the band get more done than most pop-punk bands do in albums twice that long. Remarkably catchy, thought-provoking, moving and just plain fun, Acrophobe would be seen as a high point for most bands of the same genre. But one wouldn’t expect, hearing this in 2001, that it would only get better from here. An absolutely phenomenal debut, despite being about half as long as anyone would like it to be. Fantastic.