Review Summary: When you go up, you then have to go down.
The Maine care about those that care to listen. Giving away free albums doesn’t carry the same weight as it did when Radiohead did it last decade, thanks to the rise of streaming formats of course and bandcamp giveaways, so the Arizonians went further and offered free concerts in 2015’s now-famous Free For All tour. “Come hear us play, come be a fan,” would be a mission statement they would carry with them when they later went into a private little house to record their best album, 2017’s Lovely Little Lonely
. As opposed to “kinda disappearing for a while,” singer John O’Callaghan would tell the BUILD in New York City that they wanted to include their fans in the process, posting studio updates, generating feedback, and fine tuning the end product from that feedback.
And it clearly helped. Lovely Little Lonely
is the only pop
-punk album I know of that gets away with three (!) interludes in its twelve-track tracklisting -- pop
is emphasized as the band’s much more heavily bent in that direction in comparison to that of punk -- but not only getting away with them, but greatly benefiting from their inclusion. The interludes of Lovely Little Lonely
, each named a word of the album title, respectively, acted as atmospheric lubricant to the power pop engine that is The Maine, and I’d go as far as to say, they defined the record itself. That’s a bit extreme when some of The Maine’s strongest material is on that record, chiefly “Bad Behavior” and “Black Butterflies and Deja Vu” among them, but the interludes marked The Maine itching toward innovation and progression -- ambition, if you will, that they never showed before in their strong career.
Here in 2019 brings us The Maine in their “most ambitious form to date.” Back in January, John O’Callaghan announced via Instagram the March release of You Are OK
, and then stated, “This is us, for the first time fully realizing a vision we had from conception to finished product.” Obviously those were words written to inspire hype, which the singer would later admit, going on to say, “This is us [. . .] holding our head up higher than we ever have before.” Any fan of The Maine had every right to be excited for this album. To read the singer stating that You Are OK
was the band in prime form carried a lot of weight. There’s the excellence of Lovely Little Lonely
to consider, but preceding albums American Candy
, Forever Halloween
, and Pioneer
were all pristine, consistent works of the band’s hooky pop punk brand. To date, the band hasn’t released an underwhelming full LP in roughly nine years.
However, now post date, that run of excellence is no more. What originally brought fans into their family of cared-for beneficiaries was O’Callaghan’s intimacy of tone and voice; how he carried his hooks with unnatural ease and flair -- being right there, right next to you. Topics of boys and girls, and relationships, and subtle, naked depression, as in Pioneer
’s “Misery” and American Candy
’s gorgeous “24 Floors” -- all that typical, common shi
t that so many sing about lost all its initially expected cliché with this one singer’s hook and sound. It made him and his band better than any of their other contemporary’s crap like All Time Low and We The Kings. The band’s been producing independently since 2013’s Forever Halloween
, and its been to their credit that I wouldn’t have known that fact had I not researched anything for this article: 8123 sounds like a major label. The Maine have always sounded huge, so it’s confusing when listening to the production job on You Are OK
Guitarists Jared Monaco and O’Callaghan’s guitar tones sound diluted overall, and the most damning thing, O’Callaghan’s voice itself, the band’s strongest piece, is buried under the saturation. When considering single “Numb Without You” in its entirety, another production issue becomes apparent: Strings introduce this thing, synthesized, which being technically inorganic is fine, but they lack bite in the sound mix, almost coming off as lo-fi and by extension to the other sounds going on, tacked on, lazy, disorganized
. The chorus hook itself is second best on the album, however; problem is, you have to accept the dust around it for a much weaker portrait. The curse of autotune, or some effect akin to it, finds O’Callaghan in the bridge, which he never needed to begin with.
On “Heaven, We’re Already Here”, the album’s strongest hook is beaten to a pulp with an onslaught of lo-fi style strings again, going as far as to not only drown out O’Callaghan's voice but the guitars too. During that same interview with the BUILD, the band stated that it was important to them that the band stay a rock band and when making an album to “take their pop arrangements and imbue as much rock n’ roll into them as they can.” Here on You Are OK
, The Maine lose sight of that. “Broken Parts” is another dud covered in these strings. O’Callaghan loses position in the mix, jumping to the front in the verses, then jumping to the side in the pre-chorus, then seeming to somehow jump in the back once the pseudo-chorus comes in. Guitars, minus one acoustic in the prechorus, are absent as well, or at the least are so dialed down they are hard to distinguish from the overriding synths.
The best song on You Are OK
is the intimate and acoustic “Forevermore”. Coming after lackluster “Heaven, We’re Already Here”, the song gives a breath of fresh air with its naked production and no tacky gimmicks. It’s the one instance where the youthful musings of O’Callaghan can be taken seriously, much less competently heard: “I want to feel like this forever, even if forever is just for now,” comes across like The Maine pre-OK
-- personal and with you. The Maine close things out with the nine-minute “Flowers on the Grave”, which in length alone for The Maine is a challenge. Being at their best with the standard two-three minute pop-song layout, this is an another instance where the band got too ambitious to the point of failure. And come think of it, that’s perhaps You Are OK
’s main problem: The Maine are at their most ambitious, I guess, but in the wrong ways. Production flourishes and a new song structure hamper their strengths here, and make this writer believe The Maine best go back and start caring about the right things and who they are as a band. We all know they can do much better than this.