Review Summary: Intelligent lyrics, excellent musicianship and a hefty dose of bitterness and inspiration.
The Walking Wounded is Bayside's third full length album and their first after releasing an acoustic album in the memory of their drummer John Holohan, killed in an accident in 2005. While it would be easy to conclude that the title therefore refers to this and the band as a whole this isn't an album devoted simply to mourning their friend. Instead Bayside have taken this tragedy in their stride, added Chris Guglielmo to the line up and produced an album with wide ranging themes from alcoholism (Choice Hops And Bottled Self-Esteem), love (Landing Feet first) and the music industry (Pop)Ular SciencE). Bayside are firmly part of the pop punk movement, coming from the same area as Taking Back Sunday and Brand New and being signed to Victory Records but they've always had their own style with Anthony Ranieri's vocals combined with some truly solid riffs, a lack of screaming and more of a caustic edge. Perhaps because of this they've never quite hit the same heights as their compatriots but The Walking Wounded definitely represents their best try yet as it's an album chock full of catchy tracks begging to be singles.
The title tracks opens things off with a bit of a suprise as a tuba leads into a roaring track as Ranieri bitterly asks 'Who would want to die as a cowardly little child/When our time is up, will be ashamed or proud?'. Featuring I Am The Avalanche's Vinnie Curuana on guest vocals and with ith a quick 20 seconds of squealing guitar solo in the middle this song is an excellent starter, both catchy and with enough rock to firmly establish what Bayside is all about. The bitterness hardly abates with second track 'They're Not Horses, They're Unicorns' as Ranieri rages at a (presumably) former lover 'she was a termite eating away at my roots/eating away at my roots'. While the lyrics may not be genius material the pounding guitar behind it makes up for it, making sure it doesn't come out as simply angsty. 'Duality' quickly dispels any doubt that Bayside can make a good old fashinoned catchy pop rock song. This is the shortest and catchiest song on the album with some good backing vocals from Jack O'Shea behind energetic guitar and some intelligent, easily singable lyrics (Some say/It's all fate/But I say we control our lives/And if my destiny should outbest me then that's fine). This first trio of songs establishes quickly what The Walking Wounded is all about, catchy but still meaningful rock with a bitter edge but not whiny.
'Carry On' isn't much of a departure from this formula, a song about being out of your depth, again featuring good lyrics but it lacks some of the anger of the first three tracks, instead focusing on more of the feelings of inadequacy. However it does seem a bit interchangeable from the opening trio. Luckily if you're getting tired of all this negativity 'I And I' shifts the clouds of gloom with some words of self belief and a section ready-made for sing alongs as Ranieri sings 'I and I we're taking control of our lives/Everything's alright'. It lacks some of the energy of the early songs but it's a stirring anthem. 'Head On A Plate' follows a similar route, an empowering song about originality in music and it's hard not to sing along to 'What a lovely day/For a symphony/Full of honesty and integrity'. There's less emphasis on the edgy guitar here and it makes a nice change of pace.
'Choice Hops And Bottled Self - Esteem' reminds you that Bayside aren't a band big on the happy and light style of music. The subject here is alcoholism and this is an intelligent and passionate song. 'The healing power of alcohol/Only works on scrapes and nicks/And I know girls who drown themselves in it' are great lines and are fully supported by some good backing vocal woah's and another quick section of blistering guitar work. 'Dear Your Holiness' has some atheistic overtones and the lines 'I think it's funny you've been quiet for so long/When you're quiet no-one proves you wrong' may raise some eyebrows. Some piano interludes provide a break from the relentless riffs and the song is another perfectly hooky song which could easily be a single. 'Landing Feet First' is possibly the most suprising song on the album. A love song, it starts off with just Ranieri singing and one repeated note before turning into a full on pop song complete with eh-oh singing and then abruptly swinging into a rocking song with the spotlight on some immense sounding guitar work. It's an energising song and really shows Bayside can do when they feel like experimenting.
'Thankfully' makes full use of this energy and is one of the most up-tempo songs. A song about self reliability a burst of quickfire singing shows Ranieri's vocal talents and it's backed by some excellent drumming. 'A Rite of Passage' isn't much to talk about unfortunately. Though it's a perfectly competent song it follows some by now familiar themes and gets a little repetitive despite the always catchy guitar and singing. Luckily the finishing track, '(Pop)Ular SciencE' makes up for it, an intelligent rant about the conformity in music and something Bayside clearly take very personally as gang vocals take over as they chant 'they don't care/dollar by dollar your souls getting smaller'.
Overall The Walking Wounded is mostly what's best about good pop punk music. It's emotional but still intelligent, it's catchy but still rocks and the musicianship is superb. It really does deserve success. There's not a lot of experimentation here besides 'Landing Feet First' so I can't justify giving this more than a 4 but Bayside have taken what they're good at and produced a brilliant album.