Review Summary: The only way that they know how to be.
When I listen to this album, I alternate between wanting to applaud Anthony Raneri's cleverness and wanting to shake him by the shoulders until he starts making sense. Bayside has long had many of the components for a top-tier punk-pop band: a knack for huge choruses and catchy hooks, well-crafted (if somewhat safe) lyrics, and a smattering of instrumental talent. Killing Time
saw them come close to putting all the pieces together in a meaningful way, but Cult
takes a step back, with timidity taking a toll on the New York foursome.
It's not just the fact that the lyrics include bombs like "We're perfect as perfect can be / I hate you and baby, you hate me." It's not just the fact that the chorus of "Something Wrong" is a cheesy dud. It's the fact that Raneri also pens the surprisingly eloquent bitterness of "Stuttering," and the choruses of "Objectivist on Fire" and "Transitive Property" are massive and stirring, even in their cheesiness. The potential is there, but it's marred by questionable decisions.
For some bands, the typical structures and forms of punk-pop are a canvas on which to paint; for Bayside, they seem like cages. Most songs are irritatingly predictable, with chugging riffs for the verses, plenty of factory-made "hook" riffs, and hardly a breath for Raneri short of the occasional guitar solo. There's not even a throwaway acoustic track to add variety. But several times, sheer execution wins out. "Time Has Come" is a zippy, radio-ready anthem ("I thought I'd like to live forever, but it just reeks of patience and effort" is a lovely youthful summer anthem). The aforementioned "Objectivist on Fire" and "Transitive Property" sit comfortably in slower tempos, and Raneri's passion and tasteful work from the rhythm section keep things lively.
Yet nothing reaches the heights of Killing Time
's highlights. Poor production is part of the problem. Shep Goodman opted to make everything sound as sterile and polished as possible, and the drums in particular sound limp and timid (except in the thunderous intro and bridge of "Big Cheese"). More troubling, though, is Raneri's half-hearted performance. His range has never won any awards, but on songs like "You're No Match" and "The Whitest Lie," he sounds downright sleepy -- even more noticeably throughout the lyrically vitriolic "Stuttering."
None of this to say that Cult
can't be enjoyed. There's enough energy and hook-writing prowess to make it ultimately worth a listen. But that doesn't quite wash out the feeling of disappointment. Bayside is good at their brand of risk-free punk-pop, but when executing familiar tunes is all the band can hang its hat on, every misstep is magnified. Here's to hoping that the band will break their own mold.