Review Summary: Four Year Strong are stuck in the middle.
It must really suck to be Four Year Strong right now. A year ago, hordes of fans cried this out ironically as they rallied around FYS' landmark LP, Enemy of the World. While there wasn’t anything particularly unique about Enemy of the World, it did just about everything right: awesome hooks, fun riffage, tasteful breakdowns, and they never took themselves too seriously. The end result was a string of awesome, feel-good summer jams like ‘Wasting Time’ or ‘On A Saturday’ or even the anthemic title track. I’d be lying to say that it wasn’t one of, if not the, definitive summer album of 2010.
Fast forward a year later, and the fans are no longer joking.
As soon as the band released the first song from their latest LP, In Some Way, Shape or Form, the general reaction was ‘what?’ And it’s easy to see why: gone were the anthemic choruses and breakdowns, not to mention the addition of an uncanny resemblance to the Foo Fighters which prompted fans to prematurely declare the album ‘Foo Year Strong.’ Lead single ‘Just Drive’ didn’t exactly help things out either. It’s actually a pretty alright song and has a decent hook, but lead single material? Hardly. The slow paced song is more akin to a third or fourth single, as a record label starts to ween off promoting an album.
While I would hardly call Four Year Strong sellouts as many have expressed, it would be just plain wrong to say that this album is on par with their past work. As mentioned, ‘Stuck in the Middle’ IS a Foo Fighters song. It’s a pretty decent track, but it’s not Four Year Strong. Gone are the energetic beardos and in is a band that is grasping at straws for hooks with mass appeal and compromise. The Foo Fighters comparison was perhaps a bit overstated, but the album turns out to be a watered down version of Four Year Strong all the same.
The album just reeks with half-hearted attempts to appeal to as many people as possible. ‘Stuck in the Middle’ will get new fans from the radio, ‘Fairweather Fan’ is an awful attempt to retain their fanbase (including the incredibly predictable gang shout of ‘RISE OR DIE TRYING’), and some sort of masochist will probably dig the questionable Queen-esque intro on closer ‘Only the Meek Get Pinched.’ While their former blend of pop-punk wasn’t the most creative thing in the world, nothing has ever been this obvious. Every song follows the same verse-chorus-verse structure, complete with an ending chorus where the instruments dropping out. The riffs, the pauses, the hooks, everything is just super predictable.
And yet, it’s not awful. Though the album struggles to find its identity between pop-punk and radio rock, there are still a few diamonds in the rough: ‘Stuck in the Middle’ is good, so is ‘Just Drive’, ‘Unbreakable’ is pleasant, and ‘Bring On The World’ is a pretty decent track. The album would be decent if it wasn't dragged down by downright embarrassing songs like ‘Sweet Kerosene’, ‘Heaven Wasn’t Build To Hold Me,’ and the aforementioned, ‘Only The Meek Get Pinched.’ Seriously, that piano intro and hook...ugh. The rest of the songs are merely inoffensive pop-punk tinged radio rock. It's that reluctance to have a definite personality that really brings the album down.
All told, In Some Way Shape or Form is decent. It’s not terrible, but it’s not great either and that is probably the worst kind of album, especially from a band as capable as Four Year Strong. Here’s to hoping that this album is nothing but a stepping stone to more defined sound: whether that be catchy, but palatable radio-rock or the former energetic anthems that put them on the map. Until then, though, Four Year Strong are truly stuck in the middle.