Review Summary: If this is love, baby, I want out.
Young Guns were a band that certainly lived up to their name. Releasing their first material in 2010, the London-based group brought potential to the current British alternative rock scene, drawing comparisons to Lostprophets among others. They had already got their mainstream introduction when the title track to their sophomore album Bones
justifiably topped the U.S. rock charts, even setting a new record for longest climb to the top with 32 weeks. The future seemed bright for Young Guns, who had already proven their potential with a pair of great albums.
Lead single “I Want Out” should have been a sign of things to come; although the radio version was given its own remix, the signals were still there. “Bones” introduced its respective album with a memorable chorus, fist-raising anthemic qualities and an overall sense of energy. “I Want Out”, while still a great song, sounds completely different than its predecessors. The layers of synthesizers, overuse of production and reliance on the clichéd “whoa”s are its main problems, and the harsh deviation from the Bones
sound most likely ruined its chance at being commercially successful. “I Want Out” has some good qualities, like its arena-ready hook and catchy melodies that give it a sort of new wave flavor, but it’s pretty much a microcosm of the rest of the album.
Ones and Zeros
is undoubtedly a more poppier record than anything else Young Guns have released in the past. The riffs are replaced with synthesizers, the percussion contains more artificial drum machines and most of the songs feel dancier and utilize the fabled “four chords of pop music”. Aside from that, the production is overdone in ways that detract from the quality of the album. The layers of polish make everything seem all shiny on the outside, but on the inside, the songs sound more hollow and fake. Couple that in with an endless onslaught of “oh”s and “whoa”s, and the end result is a batch of songs with little substance to them. Vocalist Gustav Wood, who normally sings with emotion and power, sounds dead and lifeless. Comparisons to Davey Havok can be made, more so Blaqk Audio than AFI, but it’s a far cry from the soaring vocals of Bones
The main factor that contributed to Young Guns’ change in sound cannot easily be nailed down. It’s a combination of several aspects that, when combined, have just about the worst possible effect they could on the band’s music. Opener “Rising Up” sounds more Of Mice & Men sans the harsh vocals than Lostprophets, especially when it uses electronic effects in a similar way to much of today’s metalcore. Tracks like “Speaking in Tongues” and “Memento Mori” are a cross between dance-pop and alternative rock, but at least the former has a strong enough chorus to give it that extra “oomph”. The rule for Ones and Zeros
is that if the track has either energy or a nice hook, it’s one of the few good songs on the album. There is, however, one exception – “Die on Time”, which is a bit on the boring side, is more experimental than anything else on the record, and the minimalistic beat, consisting of nothing other than snapping, is unique and interesting enough to enjoy. Everything else, whether it’s the appropriately titled “Lullaby” or the inanely bland “Colour Blind”, is extremely below average and waste of precious space.
Ones and Zeros
is incredibly frustrating in this manner, because it could have been a better album with improved execution. “I Want Out” is the perfect example of great songwriting; the piano introduction grabs listeners in, the bass and drums mix in well to the beat, the synthesizers are well used, and the chorus is nothing short of humongous. On the other hand, a song like “Infinity” is repetitive, overproduced, musically uninteresting and contains a ridiculous amount of “whoa”s. It’s all dependent on which side of the band shows up, and unfortunately most of the time it is the latter.
Young Guns were always going to get flack for changing their sound so drastically. Casual listeners who enjoyed hearing singles like “Bones” and “(You Are Not) Lonely” on the radio probably wouldn’t put up with the poppy “I Want Out”, at least not without dubbing it a guilty pleasure. The transition from being an alternative rock band to a dance-rock one did not go smoothly, and honestly speaking, there was little chance it was going to anyway. By using all of the pop clichés known to man, Ones and Zeros
is a disappointing effort from a band that had so much potential to work with. Not only is this a mainstream-friendly album, it's not even a good
mainstream-friendly album. It's a boring, uninspired mess full of lazy songwriting and poorly used dance elements. The melodies aren’t catchy, the songs aren’t interesting and the music is wearisome. It’ll be hard to tell whether or not Young Guns will be able to recover from this misfire, or if the wound will prove fatal to the band’s future.