Review Summary: Make no mistake, we all do what we want. Emery would have it no other way.
‘We Do What We Want’. It is a concerning album title that conjures up images of egocentric rock stars doing as they please, and relying on past deeds to sell records. Coming off the back of Emery’s best album to date, one may be forgiven for thinking that the post-hardcore outfit have allowed success to get to their heads. Would their fifth LP be a grab for mainstream popularity via radio rock or electro-pop? No, they already tried that on ‘I’m Only A Man’. Would the move to Solid State Records and some “heaviest record yet” hype result in a belated genre shift to metalcore? No, despite some early hints of it. Or would the bible on the album art symbolize a release comprised entirely of religious hymns? Thank God that’s not the case. In truth, such doubts should never have existed. Emery have been around for a decade now and are not some hair-teasing, neon-wearing scenesters. If this didn’t suggest that ‘We Do What We Want’ was referencing the lyrical theme of taking responsibility for one’s actions, then naming the opening track ‘The Cheval Glass’ should have.
Not too dissimilarly to its fantastic predecessor, ‘We Do What We Want’ begins in frenetic fashion. Frenzied gut-wrenching screams, loud driving guitars, and rapid-fire double bass and blast beats litter the opening one-two punch that is ‘The Cheval Glass’ and ‘Scissors’. Yet, in true Emery fashion, this is anything but disorganized clutter. For every crash, bang and wallop, there are beautiful, soothing and melodic passages which are successfully integrated in a manner that is simultaneously well-crafted and spontaneous. These expertly produced transitions are a built up by-product of previously having two members who could alternate between vocal, bass & rhythm guitar duties. Emery are not afforded that luxury here, since the departure of Devin Shelton has resulted in front-man Toby Morrell shouldering quite the burden. Pleasingly, he is up to the task on all fronts and, if anything, it is lead guitarist Matt Carter who misses Shelton most, with the guitar-work not being as technically intricate as that heard on ‘…In Shallow Seas We Sail’.
While the mainly decipherable harsh vocals (shared by Morrell & keys/synth player Josh Head) prevalent on the first two tracks are also evident through the album’s mid-section, it is Emery’s melodic nature which becomes predominant as ‘We Do What We Want’ continues. Effectively utilizing layered vocals, ‘The Curse of Perfect Days’ sees Morrell’s harmonies at their anthemic best, creating a sing-along up there with the best of the band’s career. Acting as the thematic cornerstone, the subsequent ‘You Wanted It’ then delivers an infectiously recitable chorus as keys twinkle away concurrently. Later, the title of ‘Addicted to Bad Decisions’ should alone serve notice that Morrell is to deliver another sincere and relatable account of the pessimism inherent within the common man. Melodically speaking, Shelton’s absence is thankfully inconsequential on a record which continues the band's hankering for meticulous attention to detail. Whether that will hold when the now quartet go out on tour is another matter altogether.
With Emery unwilling to stand still and become too predictable for any length of time, the latter half of ‘We Do What We Want’ is generally more experimental than its former. It is these polarizing tracks which will ultimately become this LP’s barometer, with the results arguably being mixed. For instance, an impromptu sounding sing-along bridge and closing guitar solo gives ‘I’m Not Here for Rage, I’m Here for Revenge’ a satisfyingly impulsive edge. Alternately, the unwieldy use of synths on ‘Daddy’s Little Peach’ means it strays precariously close to ‘I’m Only A Man’ territory, despite containing some intriguing ideas. Most curious however, is the placement of two predominantly acoustic ballads to close the album. ‘I Never Got to See the West Coast’ is a definite winner; an inspiring ode to fighting back from depression, which contains some breath-taking melodies. Closer ‘Fix Me’ is more of the same, but only if you can look past the more direct lyrical approach which overtly brings the band’s religious beliefs to the forefront.
As contradictory as it may sound, Emery’s 2009 classic ‘...In Shallow Seas We Sail’ was a real grower of an album, despite its multitude of immediately catchy hooks. While 'We Do What We Want' has neither the depth or overall quality of its predecessor, it is a grower for different reasons. Quite simply, this is unlike any of the band's previous releases, yet contains components of all of them. The key factor then becomes how well Emery have integrated all these pieces into a cohesive product, while still allowing them to naturally evolve as artists. It's definitely not perfect and it is quite the task without creating some awkward moments, but for the most part, they have done an excellent job. Many listeners will hear Emery's heaviest album to date, while others will find it their catchiest. Some may enjoy the gradual come down after the initial blast, while the rest will believe it lacks cohesion. When it comes to opinions; make no mistake about it, we all do what we want. Emery would have it no other way.
Recommended Tracks: The Curse of Perfect Days, You Wanted It, The Cheval Glass & I Never Got to See the West Coast.