Review Summary: ATDR still haven't completely abandoned their gimmicky past, but at least they've embraced it and turned it into something worthwhile.
A Day To Remember have always been a mixed bag; their admittedly powerful songwriting powers in the pop punk realm have been counterbalanced by their insistence on including gimmicky sub-par hardcore elements. These have been downplayed as their career has progressed, to the point where one would expect them to be dropped almost completely given their current status as one of the most popular bands of their kind in the world. Common Courtesy, the band’s long-awaited, long-delayed fifth studio album, sees almost the opposite ring true – rather, the heavy parts have become heavier, and the pop punk parts have become…pop punkier. Regardless, the two are married better here than anywhere in their discography, and the result is a diverse and entertaining listen.
Perhaps the reason the combination seems to work so well is that the elements are more separate than ever before – lead single “Violence” is a straight up metalcore piece, displaying more intricate guitar work than one would normally expect from ADTR, while album openers “City of Ocala” and “Right Back At It Again” are some of the purest pop punk the group has ever dabbled in, complete with cheesy lyrics about not giving up and remembering your teenage past. Even the areas where the two overlap feel more cohesive – “Dead & Buried” saves the breakdowns for where they belong and doesn’t scatter them all over the song. There are some interesting flourishes as well, such as the bridge riff in “Sometimes You’re The Hammer…” that show how the band has grown into creating layered constructions as opposed to throwing some breakdowns into an otherwise great pop punk song. It’s still not perfect, but it’s certainly not jarring as it was in the past, and the heavy parts don’t feel interchangeable.
It’s obvious Jeremy McKinnon has grown a lot as a vocalist – although his methods of crafting melodies and lyrics seem largely the same, here he sounds clearer and less whiny, and his screams have grown from froggy embarrassments to slightly more respectable hardcore growling. Guitars have gotten better too – there’s nothing technical here, but everything from chord voicing to the background leads seems denser and more thought out, and are interesting in their own right as opposed to just being a compliment to the vocals.
All of this is accentuated by the superb production, which compliments the new sense of layering by wisely placing the vocals more equally in the mix. Little details one would expect from a major rock release are present here, like the pianos at the end of "I Surrender", that give the songs the added punch they need, and the heavy elements have never sounded bigger.
Common Courtesy is one of those albums that instantly transports you back to your inner 15-year-old self, with its cliché but well delivered lyrics and youthful concepts about just about everything. Like your 15-year-old self, it may be covered in pimples, but its heart is in the right place and it’s certainly taking steps to improve its social skills. So taking it out on a date might not be such a bad idea after all.