Review Summary: Bayside stop stuttering.
Bayside are an odd band. They've never released a bad album – each one has been chock full of catchy and anthemic songs, and the instrumental/vocal performances are pretty much always spot on. But they've never really caught fire. They've become ‘nearly-men’, releasing solid album after solid album and never quite reaching the heights that some of us believed they could reach. They've never really released a truly memorable album. Until now.
‘Cult’ is the best album Bayside have ever written. Oddly though, it still sounds pretty much identical to each of their previous efforts. Anthony Raneri’s likeable vocals are still present and besides an added (and appreciated) hint of growling on a couple of tracks, he sounds pretty much the same as he always done. There’s still a mix of upbeat love songs and biting songs laced with cynicism and quick-shot guitar solos. There’s still that familiar Bayside sound that, whilst perhaps not particularly unique in any one aspect, is still so definably Bayside. Truly, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what makes ‘Cult’ stand out as Bayside’s best album – but after repeated listens, I'm finding it hard to argue otherwise.
That’s not to suggest that every song on the album is a hit. ‘Objectivist On Fire’ never really takes off despite always hinting at doing so, with the slow-paced chorus dragging the tempo of the song down. Similarly, the following two tracks ‘Something’s Wrong’ and ‘White Lie’ – whilst perfectly catchy and enjoyable in their own right, are far more reminiscent of the type of songs that Bayside churn out in their sleep. They don’t stand out. Thankfully there’s quite a few tracks on ‘Cult’ that have that extra something, that oh-so-indefinable quality that pushes them one level higher than the typical Bayside fare we've come to expect.
One such example – and probably the best – is ‘Stuttering’. Found midway throughout the album, ‘Stuttering’ kicks off pretty much as you’d expect from any Bayside song. Anthony’s lyrics roll out over fairly basic instrumental work before slowing down ready for the chorus to kick in, and the chorus is when the song first hints at being something different. There’s just the slightest hint of a growl in Anthony’s voice, a small suggestion of passion and anger and cynicism that elevates the song. Cynicism that’s backed up by the lyrics.
“So I can keep on making cash, for heartless ***ing crooks. They pray on all my passions, ‘cos they know as well as me, that this is the only way that I know how to be.”
Minimal instrumental work backs up the above vocals, allowing Anthony’s voice to come to the fore before he finally launches into the chorus with an “And I’m stuttering!” that by this point is essentially yelled down the mic. It feels earned. There’s build-up and pay off and it’s great hearing Bayside with that little bit more bite.
There are of course, the required love songs. The two that stand out are the relatively slower tracks of ‘You’re No Match’ – a song about a partner changing over time, about revealing who they really are once they’ve got their hooks in.
“You are the monster I was scared you’d be” – “And your horns came out so gradually, but honey, you’re no match for me.”
The second of these songs, ‘Transitive Property’, takes a more forlorn look at relationships, with Anthony lamenting the demise of his relationship and his determination to claw it back from the death – outright refusing to believe that it’s over. It’s probably my favourite song on the album, though whether that’s due to the construction of the song itself or simply the resonance the lyrics have with me, I can’t be sure.
That’s still what we want from Bayside though, at the end of the day. We want to feel. They’re a throwback to the bands we used to listen to whilst huddled in the corners of school stairwells. They've just grown up a bit on ‘Cult’, is all.