Review Summary: The chaos and blissful naivety give way to something more generic; Mayday Parade still have enough to keep their heads above water, but this is not the direction that holds the key to future success.
Mayday Parade are a band that have, for the last few years, embodied the difficulties of writing about pop-punk music in general. However good they are at what they do, there are only so many ways to say that the hooks found on A Lesson In Romantics are catchy, energetic and anthemic. It's tough to describe why that record, or any other similar one in the genre, is so well-written without falling back onto the same analogies and adjectives. Fortunately - but really, unfortunately - Anywhere But Here poses no such problem. The band's 2009 release can be perfectly summed up using probably the most common descriptor in pop-punk music journalism: generic.
I'm currently wondering why Bruised And Scarred's chorus sounds strangely like Steps' Tragedy (there's not a hint of sarcasm in that comparison) and I guess that's part of the problem. Listening to Kids In Love leaves the impression of a Sherwood imitation; frequently, the album recalls lesser pop-punk bands like All Time Low and Boys Like Girls, and although Mayday Parade are still for the most part a far superior outfit there's too much doubt present to assert so with any conviction. There's also little doubt where most of the problems here lie - since 2007's masterpiece, main songwriter and vocalist Jason Lancaster has taken flight and hence the band find themselves with two difficulties: firstly, how to replicate the youthful, heartbroken lyrical tone that stretched effortlessly across ALIR's run-time no matter how the music presented itself; secondly, how best to progress forwards without Lancaster and Derek Sanders' dual-vocal dynamic, which contributed so much energy to a record already brimming with things to say.
The dual-vocals are gone; Sanders accepts the lead, and he's certainly not a bad frontman in an arena of whining teenagers, but it just doesn't sound anywhere near as convincing or exciting as the old method; if this sounds like a personal preference, try to imagine Miserable At Best working without two voices and you have the major difficulty encountered by token ballad I Swear This Time I Mean It. Without the snappy, cross-over lyrics, the pre-choruses and refrains sound infinitely more straightforward, and no catchier; there is no mess here, nothing you can't put your finger on, and very little to experience on a fourth listen that you've not already memorised after the third. Sanders is enjoyable but not authoritative, sounding more like he's reciting somebody else's ideas than executing things he has a genuine connection to. The Silence and Kids In Love are notable exceptions, two early-album standouts where he sounds involved on more than a surface level.
The opener survives off the back of its tone (in short, it's a song about the whole idea of young love and whether its simplistic nature devalues it) but The Silence is remarkably cheesy; the chorus' vocal melody is insanely hooky, but impossible to sing along to because it's so lyrically clichéd. And hence we arrive at the record's second notable difficulty, one which it side-steps in a similar manner to the vocals issue, the result being basically identical. Mayday Parade are still just about good enough to stay this side of the line between fun and generic, but lines like 'Every night she cries and dies a little more each time / Say you love me,'
lower your expectations to the point where you don't really hear gems along the lines of 'And you give and they take / It's love that you want, but not love that you make.'
There are fewer of the specific references and abstract ideas found on A Lesson In Romantics, and more generalised assertions of emotion that sit side by side looking ever so pretty but not packing that much punch.
Instrumentally, though, the remaining members of the band put in a performance which ensures the result is - however watered-down and predictable it occasionally comes - a set of 11 pop-punk songs which stick in your head and contain enough excellent guitar lines and rhythm switches to remain viable listening after a fair few spins. Opener Kids In Love is arguably the record's best song, bouncing between its distant, relaxed verse guitars and its powerchord driven chorus - it's a promising start which contains numerous stop-and-listen moments, like when the instrumentation drops out before the final chorus starts. It's euphoric, one-track and distinctly impressive. The mid-record pairing of Save Your Heart and the massive anthem Get Up, which namedrops every city in the US on its way to a chorus written solely to make the kids dance, is another high point which documents the band's ability to write relatable material that still has merit outside its singalong value.
Mayday Parade are still better than the bands that they're going to be compared to, simply because there's still nothing awkward or dishonest about what they do and they're capable of writing lead guitar lines like The Silence's intro or the one that writhes in the background of Center Of Attention's chorus without making a big deal out of it. The worrying thing, though, is the absence of very many heartstopping lines. This Time I Mean It tries to split the difference between the first record's two ballads and just ends up sounding incredibly generic and leaving no real lasting impression. Mayday Parade are no longer the band they were when they created A Lesson In Romantics, and that's fine, but they need to find a new way to return to that powerful, passionate execution. In the meantime, as a transitional record, Anywhere But Here is worth a listen for its most dramatic moments, and it's a very solid offering on the whole, but so are a lot of the records in its genre. Your move, Mayday Parade.