Review Summary: Maybe we’ll forget. I hope we don’t forget.
It’s amazing how a simple statement can mean one thing at the time it was said, and then something completely different a year and a half later. There was a moment the other day where my fiancée looked at me and said, “I love you” and I thought back to the first time she ever said those three words. We weren’t even dating at the time, and her ambiguity-shrouded expression of endearment left me wondering for too long whether she meant it in a slap-you-on-the-shoulder, “I’m right there with ya’ buddy” fashion of boy/girl friendship or whether she had finally taken the fully invested romantic leap that I willingly took more than five years prior. It was the kind of thing that would drive you insane if you were, well, already insane about
someone. Looking back, I can still remember the color of her dress, the streaky clouds that plastered the sky like white paint splattered upon a canvas, the way the sunlight hit her brown eyes turning them hazel, and how I couldn’t stand to be with her like that for another second without kissing her. It was torture. Heart warming, heart wrenching torture. And even though I have memories far more pleasant to associate those words with now, it isn’t difficult to transport my mind back to that time – a time when earnest love and dire anguish were forced to live in harmony.
When listening to Yellowcard’s Ocean Avenue Acoustic
, I imagine that the band must have experienced a similar sensation during the recording process. After all, it has been ten
years since the creation of that pop-punk classic, and it was most assuredly a time of heightened emotions for every member of the group. It was the first time that they recorded on a major label, worked with Neal Avron in the studio, heard one of their singles being played on the radio, or saw themselves on television. In short, it was a coming of age for a band that’s largest aspiration before that was playing at the warped tour. From the vantage point that 2013 has bestowed upon them - four albums and millions of sales later - it has to feel completely and utterly surreal to rework the same songs that launched them into stardom when they were essentially still kids. Based on how Ocean Avenue Acoustic
sounds, it seems that Yellowcard hasn’t forgotten the feeling of being thrust into the national spotlight. The rebellious attitude, the themes of unrequited love, the struggle to transition into adulthood, the homesickness – it’s all revisited here, with the same energy and conviction put on display a decade ago.
Obviously, as the mind-blowingly creative title suggests, Ocean Avenue
has been stripped down and redone acoustically. In order to enjoy the record, it is important that the listener doesn’t approach it expecting inventive re-workings of every single song. Admittedly, I initially indulged in the fantasy of an orchestrated, violin-swelling take on my favorite track ‘Back Home’, but just because Ocean Avenue Acoustic
didn’t adhere to my exact preferences doesn’t mean it failed – or even disappointed, for that matter. It delivers exactly what it promises, and occasionally more. The album’s pedestrian moments (from a creative standpoint) actually tend to appear early, such as on the opening ‘Way Away’ and the famous title track ‘Ocean Avenue.’ Despite the rigid, often note-for-note tracing of the originals, these songs still offer a stripped down, more vulnerable sounding alternative to the full-band approach. If Yellowcard suffers any pitfalls on this record, it is certainly not in execution – their instrumental talent has never been overwhelming or impressive, but (as usual) they are on key and rarely find themselves missing a beat. In short, it’s Yellowcard doing what they always do, just acoustically – and that’s the worst thing you’ll probably hear on this album.
Ocean Avenue Acoustic
is, not surprisingly, at its best when it ventures beyond what is anticipated. ‘Empty Apartment’ is the first such track to take that leap, toning down an already slower song and placing the emphasis squarely on Ryan Key’s improved vocals. He never makes the leap into a higher octave during the bridge, and even though it leaves the song slightly too even-feeling, it is a better fit to Ryan’s tone and it blends in with the atmosphere far more naturally. It’s the kind of move that seasoned musicians would make; not these guys in 2003. Yellowcard continues to show maturity with standouts like ‘Life of a Salesman’, ‘Twentythree’, ‘View from Heaven’, and ‘Inside Out’, where perhaps the most noticeable improvements come within the band’s strategies for conveying emotion. They’re subtle, ranging from a slight alteration in vocal inflection to an added emphasis on a specific section of a verse, but to the avid fan these progressions are unmistakable and thoroughly enjoyable. The band’s most daunting challenge here also turned out to be their biggest triumph, taking the strictly acoustic ‘One Year Six Months Ago’ and completely reworking it as a piano ballad. The lush, full sounding classical piano notes concoct an atmosphere unlike any other found on this record, and it ties together the wide spectrum of emotions that swirl about Ocean Avenue
in a gorgeous, tidy little gem that just precedes the album’s curtain call. It is truly a work of art, and is arguably more special than the already poignant original. Songs like ‘One Year Six Months’ serve as irrefutable evidence of growth within the band, and even though the entire Ocean Avenue Acoustic
wasn’t conducted in the same vein, it’s a shining examples of just how much Yellowcard has developed over the past ten years.
Any time an artist creates an acoustic cover album, it is aimed to please long time fans who will appreciate the minor distinctions and nuances that separate it from the original work. Yellowcard is no different here, but that doesn’t mean that this is a simple cash-grab or a ploy to relive their glory days. Ocean Avenue Acoustic
is more than that. It’s an homage, a tribute to an album that has changed the life of every member in the band as well as millions of listeners. Each song is a ten year old statement about something - a relationship, a father figure, a place, a hero - and Yellowcard felt like it was time to reflect on those works and figure out what they still mean to them (and us). Yes, these are the same songs, but they just might carry an entirely different weight now that a decade has passed. That’s the magical quality about music and the memories that we associate with it - you never know how the meaning will change with time. To many of us, Ocean Avenue
is a memory that’s begun to fade into our past. I hope we never forget.