Review Summary: With Forever Halloween, The Maine finally wave goodbye to their young and predictable pop-punk days and enter a world where they have nothing to prove, nothing to earn, and nothing to say but the honest truth.
It’s early summer, and I've been lying in bed all morning, having nothing to do and wanting nothing to do. I recall a conversation I had the previous night with a friend who reminded me that The Maine’s new album just came out that day, and so I grab my headphones, roll over in my bed, and press play. 45 minutes, 8 missed calls and 5 text messages later, I decide to just toss my phone away, and replay the album. Why? Because Forever Halloween has got me enchanted. While at first it seemed they were trying too hard to be like Pioneer and unlike Pioneer at the same time, Forever Halloween ultimately stands on its own as The Maine’s best outing thus far in their young career as a rock & roll band.
Let’s be clear, though. It really took the whole 45 minutes and 8 seconds of the record for me to come to that conclusion. The hype for the album, the strange and unorthodox album title (especially for a June release), and the first few released singles (“Love & Drugs” and “Happy”) did not have me convinced that this was going to win me over, especially after Pioneer. Pioneer had it all: a Cinderella story of a pop-rock band flipping the bird to a Major Label, writing all the songs on their own, and releasing a killer record resembling late 90’s rock in the likes of Third Eye Blind, Jimmy Eat World, and Weezer. I didn’t know if John O’Callaghan and the boys could pull it off again. But they did.
The first half of the record is strong, but doesn’t live up to the crunching power that Pioneer’s first three tracks did. “Love & Drugs” is a fun ditty about – well, the title says it all. “Run” starts off with guitar in the likes of The Strokes, with opening lyrics: I wonder what you taste like / the salt within your skin / evil rages inside / now I’m hungry for blood again, which leads to the haunting chorus: You put the gun in my hand, so now run / I’ll stall the demons / but you really should be leaving. This type of lyricism finds its home in Forever Halloween; this album is darker, and much more honest and vulnerable for O’Callaghan, who for too long seemed trapped in the conventions of Pop-punk’s clichéd, teeny-bopper lyricism (see: Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop). The hints of maturity that were found in Pioneer’s “Misery” and “One Pack of Smokes from Broke” can be found in pretty much any song on this new record, and it shows in all the right ways.
As previously mentioned, the first half of this album is strong, but it is the second half that really brings this record above the band’s previous releases. From the last line of “Birthday in Los Angeles” The Maine wave goodbye to their past of forgettable hooks, fake songs about fictional love affairs, and being a fish hooked by the Music Industry, O’Callaghan sings with a newfound swagger, Here is something I just have to say: F*** you L.A.. And from that point, the album takes off into the dynamite second half of Forever Halloween with the powerful “Blood Red” to the very raw and honest “Kennedy Curse”, offering up lyrics such as: I’m having visions of the way it will end / I can see it now in my head / You will cast the first stone / My sail will be torn / I’ll lose my vessel to a dark sea bed. Perhaps the true gem of Forever Halloween is the anthemic and autobiographical “F**ked Up Kids”, which packs countless interviews, two albums, and a documentary all into one song, as it ends with group vocals confidently chanting, We are alone but we’re not lonely / No, it’s nothing personal / We prefer to do things on our own / and even though nobody knows it / No, we’re not lonely / No, we’re raw and invincible. And I dare you to bet against them.
This takes us to the final two tracks of this album, “These Four Words” and the title track. It can be a bit risky ending such a loud and boastful record with two consecutive tracks that are lengthy and slow. But they truly do hold their own, showing the band’s confidence and versatility. On the former, we see John O’Callaghan where he belongs, in the spotlight. This track is simple; just piano and vocals the whole way through, all credited to O’Callaghan. This is the first time the band had the courage to strip down a song to just vocals and one instrument, and it pays off, as this song is charming and somber at the same time, as O’Callaghan sings probably his most honest lyrics to date; As if a plane crash were timely / There’s no good time for bad news / And these four words don’t come easy / I don’t love you. Then it flows right into the title track, which is the perfect closer to the raw dark record that is Forever Halloween.
The musicianship on this record really does deserve its own paragraph in this review. Produced by Brendan Bensen (known for his solo music, and as a member of the Raconteurs alongside Jack White), The Maine recorded this album live in the studio, playing together in the same room. That togetherness is truly felt on this record, and all the instruments really do complement each other. It doesn’t feel like two guitars, a bass, and a drummer; it feels like a band, through and through. Jared Manaco’s lead guitar hooks, riffs, and solos are perfectly placed, and they really feed off of the dynamics of The Maine’s rhythm section, drummer Pat Kirch and bassist Garrett Nickelsen. But the man who really takes the spotlight on this record is O’Callaghan, both vocally and lyrically. He has found his niche as more than a lead singer/songwriter, but as a frontman to a rock band. His voice has rawness and authority to it, and his lyrics have pride and swagger; he is no longer afraid to pull up his sleeves and scream his heart out on one track, then wear his heart on that same sleeve on the next.
It is exciting to hear what this band can truly be when they know where they’ve been and who they’ve become. With Forever Halloween, The Maine finally wave goodbye to their young and predictable pop-punk days and enter a world where they have nothing to prove, nothing to earn, and nothing to say but the honest truth. I’ll finish with these four words: Forever Halloween kicks ass.
F**ked Up Kids
These Four Words