Review Summary: Considering how abysmal some of its promo singles were, All Time Low's latest effort is a decent enough listen when played in full.
With the move from Hopeless Records to Fueled by Ramen and the subsequent release of their seventh full-length outing Last Young Renegade
, All Time Low is the next band in a growing line of modern rock outfits that shift their sonic identity from rockier, more instrument-heavy composition to a poppy, bubbly shill of the band's former self. While this new trend has worked for some (see Paramore) and backfired on all accounts for others (see Linkin Park and Fall Out Boy), All Time Low finds an uneasy middle ground with Last Young Renegade
. The shift in sound is logical, but the only thing more inevitable than the group's paradigm shift is the growing pains that show like fresh, open wounds.
What's more is that All Time Low has been down this road before. 2011's Dirty Work
was a major label experiment that, while underrated and filled with catchy tunes, reeked of the plastic and cheap production that Interscope Records injected into the album. With Last Young Renegade
, All Time Low is no longer taking baby steps into the unknown. They're full steam ahead in this new direction now. But the end result oscillates between hit and miss all throughout.
Lead off single "Dirty Laundry" may very well be the worst song the group has ever cut. The booming choruses and infectious hooks that made All Time Low scene favorites has been discarded in favor of eerie synths and a crooning Alex Gaskarth who sounds so lifeless, he sounds as if he's trying to lull the listener to sleep and not sing a pop rock ballad. The song annoys the listener with three minutes of lifeless vocals and cheap basslines, with minimal build up to a soaring closing chorus that comes so far out of left field, it's almost inappropriate. The title track, which opens the album, is an outstanding cut, however. The track marks a return of the catchy high flying choruses the band is known for and the poppier production value feels a lot more fluid.
"Drugs & Candy" is a track that gives Gaskarth a chance to truly shine behind the mic and as a seasoned vocalist, he doesn't disappoint. Gaskarth shows so much more command on this track. Drummer Rian Dawson is very audible on this track, rising up above the synths and basslines. Jack Barakat's riffs get a bit lost in the noise but the track is strong enough in other areas that the listener won't mind. "Good Times" is a cut that tries to make up for subpar lyrical content and an annoying opening beat with a strong vocal effort from Gaskarth that the song doesn't deserve. "Nice2KnoU" is a rather upbeat callback to the group's pop punk days, but the track misses several opportunities to explode with the energy that enriched albums like Nothing Personal
and Don't Panic
"Nightmares" is a haunting pop rock piece that implants wintery basslines behind a vulnerable Gaskarth's vocals. "Dark Side of Your Room" opens with some distorted riffs and a pulsating beat that actually fits the mold of the song's composition. Where this pulsation fails horridly is "Life of the Party", featuring one of the most annoying beats this side of "Turn Down for What." "Ground Control" is an indie pop experiment that features Tegan and Sara and while not terrible, it shows All Time Low may still feel a bit uncomfortable with their new direction. "Afterglow" closes the album and it's a sluggish jog to the finish line that misses yet another chance to jump out with more grit and bite to it.
Overall, Last Young Renegade
works best when the instruments are more free flowing and Alex Gaskarth is given a chance to shine like the seasoned talent he is. Gaskarth is the constant highlight of the album through its ups and downs. Elsewhere, the group as a whole experiences growing pains that, while expected, could be remedied if they weren't living in fear of spicing up the composition. Very few tracks are helpings of vintage All Time Low, and those tracks, ironically enough, are album highlights. The flat-lining production Fueled by Ramen imposes on the group feels far too forced and while the album in its entirety is solid enough, it shows once again that these shifts in sonic identity are never easy, not even for modern era veterans like All Time Low.