Review Summary: No pain, no gain.“Brace for the hate, to be the subject of debate,
Wait for the perfect time for them to watch you wipe the dirt from your face
As you constantly save us from ourselves.
I beg you stop before you destroy something else”.
(Taken from track 8 ‘Here’s to Swimming with Bow-Legged Women’)
Four Year Strong definitely weren’t the first band to take a diversion toward the mainstream… and they certainly won’t be the last. Nor should they be either, with (theoretically) far more to be gained from such an excursion, than lost. Delusions of grandeur resulting from a sonic shift in accessibility would obviously be unwise, but viewing 2011’s much-maligned ‘In Some Way, Shape or Form’ as a failure is short-sighted. It’s not as if the bearded Massachusetts quartet were the most original or diverse act going around in the first place, so what harm could switching from their aggressive form of pop-punk to playing a tighter brand of mainstream rock do" Sure, some momentum may have been halted and fans left disappointed, but as the well-worn motto suggests; No pain, no gain. And on the band’s self-titled sixth LP, the gain is there for all to hear.
Consolidating on the excellent ‘Go Down in History’ EP, Four Year Strong now veer closer towards a sound that balances their various strengths, without stretching them to borderline nonsensical lengths. It may have taken a while for the now quartet to iron out the kinks associated with the departure of synth maestro Josh Lyford, but that’s where the lessons learned from their so-called mainstream transgression come into play. Rather rawly produced by Converge guitarist Kurt Ballou, the tighter, more muscular sound on display gives this self-titled release both a nostalgic and progressive feel. Breakdowns, for example, are much rarer here, with assertive and (relatively speaking) more intricate guitar lines and riffs in their place. Furthermore, Jake Massucco’s thumping drums are complex, without ever crossing the line into lairy territory.
Not only have Four Year Strong lost none of their swaggering intensity, but their hyperactive energy also remains intact, meaning that these subtle adjustments can take place without sacrificing their all-important fun and catchy nature. And my, oh my, when ‘Four Year Strong’ gets fun and catchy, it really does result in one almighty sing/shout-along. The dual and duelling vocals of Alan Day and Dan O’Connor are ubiquitous, while the band are unafraid to take it up a notch to gang chant level on tracks such as single ‘We All Float Down Here’, the supremely hooky ‘I’m a Big, Bright, Shining Star’ and EP holdover ‘Go Down in History’. Adding to the massive nature of these anthems is the fact that quotable refrains seem to effortlessly roll off these guys’ tongues, even if they’re not quite as consistently clever as they want them to be.
There are still moments on ‘Four Year Strong’ where the quartet fall into cruise-control mode, with the more standard song structures of the still catchy ‘Eating My Words’ and ‘Gravity’ fading a little into the background. If anything, this continues to prove that the band lack variety, since there’s definitely no ballads to be found here, and the main point of difference will be the divisive, but extremely fun, ‘Who Cares"’; a sub two minute tune that sounds like the heaviest song that Sum 41 never recorded. The main other nit-pick concerning the album is if last year’s EP never existed, then a few of its strong tracks could have been used here to replace the tunes which approach being classified as filler. Otherwise, this rather back-loaded LP - which has fittingly been released in time for the Northern hemisphere summer - will not only go down a treat live, but also rates as Four Year Strong’s best record to date. The pain was worth it!
Recommended Tracks: I’m a Big Bright Shining Star, Go Down in History, Here’s to Swimming with Bow-Legged Women & Stolen Credit Card!