Review Summary: A lesson in looking beyond the surface.
Before anything else is said, let’s get one thing straight – A Lesson in Romantics
is not a unique nor an innovative record. Neither is it genre-defying or even anything special. This album is full of simple pop-punk songs that follow a standard verse-chorus-verse structure, and at times it can be very predictable. Lyrically, the only subjects discussed are broken hearts and the power of love, topics that have been sung about to death since forever. There’s also nothing about the lyrics that distinguish them from other songs that tread on similar subject matter, and the instrumentation is also pretty standard. With all that mentioned, why is it that this album, the first by Floridian-based pop-punk act Mayday Parade so damn captivating?
The main characteristic that sets A Lesson in Romantics
apart from their ilk is simply just how catchy it is. With an endless treasure trove of memorable hooks and addictive melodies, most if not all of the songs on here contain one. From the get-go, the album establishes this as its strong suit with the absolutely infectious opener “Jamie All Over”, cementing itself as one of the record’s best with its anthemic, sing-along chorus. Arguably the best one they ever wrote, it’s filled such vivacious energy that it’s hard to resist its alluring charms. It’s one of the few happy songs on here, and that makes it stand out amongst the heartbroken, angst-ridden tales of defeat. Sometimes, recalling a dream about spending copious amounts of time with your true love and making love by the ocean is the perfect way to kick-start an album defined by its reaction to heartbreak. While there’s still a longing sense to it, “please don’t tell me that I’m dreaming when all I ever wanted was to dream another sunset with you” is a line that is delivered with such fervent passion and emotion that listeners can just feel the sentiments that are being detailed. There’s just so much power in the way Derek Sanders and Jason Lancaster sing that give songs like “Jamie All Over” and other cuts including “I'd Hate to Be You When People Find Out What This Song Is About” and “If You Wanted a Song Written About You, All You Had to Do Was Ask” a foreboding sense of strength and triumph, like the final erasing of any pain left before.
Sanders and Lancaster are also gifted with the ability to sing with passion and emotion; whether it’s the “and I hope this makes you happy now, that the flame we had is burning out” line from “If You Wanted a Song Written About You, All You Had to Do Was Ask” or the poignant bridge of piano ballad “Miserable at Best”, the emotions presented in A Lesson in Romantics
always feel genuine. Unlike other bands that constantly remain dull and fail to show any sort of personality whatsoever, the dueling vocalists of Mayday Parade manage to come off as incredibly heartfelt and honest, with the contrast of Lancaster’s deeper, more contemplative voice and Sanders’ more pop-punk styled singing working wonders for the band. The former’s absence on future records is pretty notable, which is partially why Mayday Parade struggled so hard to recapture the glory of their debut. A more aggressive side is displayed on “When I Get Home, You’re So Dead”, and although the belligerence runs the risk of seeming forced, the heavier riffs and somewhat quiet breakdown fit within the context of the song perfectly well. The spite and anger in lyrics like “On any other day I’d shoot the boy, but your simple toy had caused a scene like that” resonates strongly with the tone of the song.
From start to finish, A Lesson in Romantics
remains consistently solid, churning out song after song of pure pop-punk goodness. There’s never a large patch of incessantly dull moments, and with the choruses Mayday Parade are capable of writing, it shouldn’t come off as too big of a surprise. The jazz-tinged riff of “Black Cat” and modulation on the final chorus of “Jersey” are just a few examples of how the band manages to switch things up a bit. While there still are a few dull moments – “Walk on Water or Drown” manages to be the sole unimpressive song, lacking the spark that most others contain, “Miserable at Best” could be a bit better if it was a little trimmed down, and the vocals in “Take This to Heart” is just a tad bit too whiny. Other than those minor setbacks, A Lesson in Romantics
is a great listen from front to back, and even though it mostly uses the same formula each time, it’s a winning formula that plays a huge role in its quality control. The album’s biggest flaw is one that can easily be overlooked, and that would be the lyrics. Every single song is about love and heartbreak, and at times they can stray into some pretty clichéd territory. While there are no demands to bring up topics like existentialism or politics, there definitely are qualms concerning the generic nature of some of Lancaster’s word choices. At times a bit too predictable and overused, the lyricism is definitely not one of the main reasons why the album succeeds like it does.
On the surface, A Lesson in Romantics
is just another generic pop-punk release made by an average band with not much going for them. Yet it’s the sheer emotion and passion that the duo of Lancaster and Sanders bring as well as the immensely catchy hooks that make Mayday Parade’s full-length debut stand out in a sea of forgettable nobodies. From the opening chords of “Jamie All Over” to the soaring ending of “You Be the Anchor That Keeps My Feet on the Ground, I’ll Be the Wings That Keep Your Heart in the Clouds”, A Lesson in Romantics
is nothing more than fifty-six minutes of non-stop, energetic breakup anthems filled with the spirit of a thousand lonely lovers. Even though it seems like just another pop-punk album, one listen is all it will take to convince any naysayers that it’s not.