Review Summary: An incredible farewell from the best pop punk band of all time.
I honestly had just
hopped on the Yellowcard bandwagon when I initially laid ears on and reviewed this album. I was obviously familiar with the band's work; let's face it, Ocean Avenue
was inescapable in its heyday. But for the longest time, Yellowcard was merely a blip on the radar, which is somewhat reflective of their status within the larger pop punk genre. A devoted fan base kept them alive and well through several more album cycles, but they never got quite the airplay they deserved. Nevertheless, Ryan Key and company trekked forward. From the grown up but unrequited romanticism of When You're Through Thinking, Say Yes
to the fully realized maturation of Southern Air
, they churned out some all-time great pop punk material. When they announced they would release one more album before breaking up, I decided it was finally time to dive into their catalog. Of course, the bulk of it utterly captivated me, but not quite the way their eponymous farewell did.
As emotionally heavy as Yellowcard could be through the years, it arguably came to a head with this album. Any vestiges of the hopeless romantic Ryan Key once screamed his lungs out about being were long gone. Here, we find a man beckoned by the growing importance of family and settling down. And it translates into some of the most heavy hearted lyrics Key ever penned. "Rest in Peace" cautiously glides in to open the album before erupting with the familiar mix of guitars, drums and violins. The instrumental itself is relatively upbeat, but it's in support of an introspective Ryan Key, urging a nameless companion to put the past behind them. "If this was the last time that we would ever speak, could we forgive somehow, could we let it rest in peace?" he ponders.
"What Appears" is among a handful of tracks that call back to the group's past work. Lyrically, Ryan Key still doesn't seem fully at peace after all. "I'm still out here looking for answers," he proclaims. "A Place We Set Afire" remains my favorite off this album. The traditional pop punk sound explodes with plenty of spank and kick to it, but it's on here that the weight of the lyrical content begins to overshadow it. Here, Ryan Key illustrates the importance of acceptance and moving on. "We don't have to say goodbye, but we can't get lost in time," he reluctantly admits.
"Leave a Light On" is carried by bulky piano fills that largely play as a gasp for air before Yellowcard
enters its second half. But it spares no expense to add to the melancholy of it all. "Come home, the lights are on," Ryan Key cries out, possibly from the perspective of a family longing for him to leave the spotlight behind and settle down. "The Hurt is Gone" employs some ominous synths and basslines as the final batch of Yellowcard compositions gets underway. Silky guitar work from Ryan Mendez and empathic bass from Josh Portman remain a perfect pairing, as Ryan Key continues to come to grips with the finality that's in his midst. "Change comes for you, even if you're hiding out," he sings. Sean Mackin's violin eerily joins in during the bridge of the song and it will surely reappear as the end approaches.
As the album nears its conclusion, we begin to see hints of the kind of sound Ryan Key has undertaken as a solo artist. It perhaps foreshadows what he wanted to do for a long time. "I'm a Wrecking Ball" is the best exemplar of this. "On these shelves, I keep my family. In this bed, I watch them fall asleep," he sings amidst some distortion and other vocal alterations that pervade through the track. But everything comes to a head on the album's grand finale, "Fields and Fences." Heavy string arrangements carry the track through its first few minutes as Ryan Key looks back on what has been. "I still remember the reasons I write," he sings reflectively. But he also reinforces his yearning to stop being "the star of the show" and move on with his life. With Yellowcard's career slowly closing the book, this track erupts into one last barrage of drums, electric guitars and of course, Sean Mackin's crying violin. Ryan Key says goodbye to the listener with something that for me personally, is emblematic of my relationship with Yellowcard's music, particularly as someone who was never a longtime fan;
"I don't have much that I can give to you but, I know I love the way you make me feel like I'm at home and I am not alone.
With those incredibly purposeful words of goodbye, Yellowcard closed the book on their final album and their twenty year career. I wish I could say I was there when Ocean Avenue
catapulted the band into stardom or even during their triumphant return at the turn of the decade. I am thankful, however, that I still took the time to delve deep into their discography, because there is nothing like it and there never will be again. From youthful and innocent lyrics about longing for love, to growing up and learning the meaning of home and family, there is something quite special about the story
they took listeners on. All we can do is carry the summery hope and optimism Yellowcard gave us into our lives and enjoy our time on this earth. Because we would all do well to live life as fulfilled as Ryan Key and crew did during their time as a group. Thank you, Yellowcard. You'll never know how real to me you've been.