Review Summary: Yes, Broadway, we missed you back. But many damn things have changed these past three years.
This was the release I, personally, anticipated the most this year. Broadway's debut album "Kingdoms" was not only a spectacularly catchy and well-arranged “easycore” album, but it also represents a part of my life that I cannot forget. “Kingdoms” was the soundtrack of my days in high school as an underclassman. During freshman year, it was the go-to album for my friends and me: we were hooked on it and could not put it down. To us, it was THAT good. I do not exaggerate when I say that so many of my memories, happy and sad, are forever associated with the band’s first release. I have no small amount of nostalgia attached to this band…which is why sophomore release “Gentleman’s Brawl” is, to me at least, a rather bittersweet release. Broadway has ditched some parts of its sound, redefined/honed other parts, and is now walking the tightrope of shallowly catchy yet musically unimpressive pop-punk-easy-core. Gone are the unorthodox and interesting vocal/instrumental arrangements. Gone are a majority of the screams. Gone are the well-placed breakdowns and the echoing electronics. Make way for power chords, formulaic song structures, and uninspired lyrics.
Don’t be mistaken, all if not most of the songs on “Gentleman’s Brawl” are still sing-along, catchy, and highly energetic. Of all the regressions to be found on this album, there are some areas of growth. Frontman Misha proves once again to be one of the bands’ most valuable assets, with his soaring vocal range and his very proficient songwriting capabilities (though his lyrics are highly lacking nowadays, more on this later). Misha’s voice easily, and perhaps too easily, gives this album direction and trumps the rather same-y guitar work. Moreover, Misha has often transitions from hitting major notes to minor notes within songs, as evidenced by the flagship track “Vagrant Stories”. This is very effective, as it is very catchy and never seems out of place.
Despite Misha’s obvious improvement in some areas, he is not invulnerable to massive slipups. Some songs feature entirely uninspired choruses (listen to Lawyered). Because the vocals are so in the spotlight, so to speak, dismal songwriting and horrible lyrics stands out enormously. Consider the track “I Am Not a Rockstar”:
I straight ironed my hair,
Took me about 10 minutes to get my tight pants on.
Are you looking for the old me?
Cause that loser's long gone.
The lyrics are clearly meant to be satirical, but it isn’t executed well enough to prevent the song from sounding immature, horribly contrived, and cringe-worthy. This kind of social criticism isn’t Broadway’s game, so it is very out of place. Another example of songwriting weakness is the track “I’ve Got the Itis”:
I'm so lazy, I'm tired yeah,
I'm so lazy, I'd rather be fired yeah,
I'm so lazy, lazy, I feel so dead,
I'm so lazy, just can't seem to get up from my bed,
Broadway, you’re kidding me, right? It’s these almost painful lapses in Misha’s songwriting that really detract from this album.
Instrumentally, “Gentleman’s Brawl” is solid, but JUST solid. Drummer Jake Garland (who is ironically in Memphis May Fire, another band that suffers from musical regression) provides solid fills but does nothing truly interesting. Guitarist Sean Conners provides good-enough backing of Misha’s singing, but that’s just about it. He rarely shows any personality, with only a few memorable moments such as the solo towards the end of “Better Times”, the intro of “Vagrant Stories” and some sparse seconds in “There’s No Crying in Baseball”. The bassist, Gabe Fernandez, is barely audible. All in all, this album’s incredible lack of substance is traded off with unrelenting energy. Every track is fast, unrestrained, and loud, giving listeners no breaks. This may be another organizational failure of this album; “Gentleman’s Brawl” wears on after a while and ends up melding into one huge mass of enthusiasm, energy, and occasional atrocious musical moments.
I had huge hopes for this album, and I know that like most fans, this release will come forth as a disappointing degeneration of what was once a cohesive band. The old Broadway was as creative as it could have been within the easycore framework, but the new direction that the band is taking is as lazy as the subject matter in “I’ve Got the Itis”, trading in musicality for face-value catchiness. This being said, “Gentleman’s Brawl” lacks in staying power, but it is enjoyable enough in that superficial way to be an entertaining anthem of summer 2012. Unfortunately, this is all that it could be.
Recommended Tracks: “Party at Sean’s House”, “Better Things”, “Vagrant Stories”, “Medication”.