Review Summary: "I'll cross this planet without you...."
...or maybe I won't? It took the Jacksonville based pop punk legends calling it quits for me to give them the attention they so gravely deserved. You'd be hard pressed to find any artist in modern popular music more criminally underappreciated in their respective genre than Yellowcard was in the realm of pop punk. The mainstream explosion of the genre in the early 2000s was the catalyst for their commercial success with Ocean Avenue
, but over just two more album cycles, their contemporaries lapped them several times over and they found themselves going on hiatus. Four long years later, Yellowcard returned, but now they were resigned to the channels of Warped Tour and whatever independent record label would sign them. They tried to reclaim their past glory with 2014's Lift a Sail
via the Universal imprint Razor & Tie, but the returns left a bit to be desired. Then after an eponymous tenth album and supporting tour, they called it quits for good...
Until now. I was just
broaching the prospect of a Yellowcard reunion with a friend the other day. When asked if I thought it was a possibility, two conflicting personalities immediately clashed in my head; the unwavering optimist and the demoralized realist. George Carlin once said, "if you scratch a cynic, you'll find a disappointed idealist." And man, do I subscribe to that philosophy. Of course, a small flicker burned inside me hoping in spite of hope that Yellowcard would one day return, but my battered soul ultimately wagered that their story was complete and while I'd love nothing more, I'd accepted the terms of their dissolution. I was ready for life without them. I'd come back now and again to dust off an old favorite like Southern Air
or When You're Through Thinking, Say Yes
, but I wouldn't be pining for a reunion.
Me and my big mouth, huh? "Hang You Up" from the latter album rings so poignantly now. "I hang you up and then I pull you down," Ryan Key professes on that track. It's honestly kind of surreal how much I had processed my regrets of not seeing the band live and accepted that the past was gone, only to immediately reinvest myself emotionally upon today's reformation announcement. Of course, they've only announced one live show, due to take place this September in Chicago, but f*cking hell man, I want more
. I want a tour and a new album. I want to tell all
of them how real to me they've been and not just one Ryan Key, who I had the privilege of meeting in August of 2019. But, now I have
to bide my time, so bumping their back catalog in large doses it is. And I think 2007's Paper Walls
is a good place to start.
After 2006's Lights and Sounds
saw only modest commercial returns and even more despondent songwriting compared to its predecessor, Paper Walls
was something of a return to form for Yellowcard. Sean Mackin's ebullient violins are more present, the guitars crunch and are more brimming with life and of course, Ryan Key lets his plain yet powerful vocals guide the way. For most of us, we met him on Ocean Avenue
as the freshly heartbroken teenager who underwent more stages of grief than me and Sowing combined. On later releases like Southern Air
, he betokens downward from the vantage point of experience and maturity. But here, he's in the middle. He's on the path to finality, even though some of the passages here hint at it (hence their brief split after the album's release), but he's not quite there yet.
On the blistering opener "The Takedown", Ryan kind of sounds like a lone gunslinger. He's learning to adapt to the cold world out there, but the wounds are still fresh. "How did I end up like this," he ponders. Mackin's violins swell
on the chorus and post-second chorus refrain and Ryan Mendez bodies the fuck
out of the guitar solo on the bridge. His riffs also have a bit of glassy shimmer as the final chorus gets going. Yellowcard is known for their energetic album openers and in a sea full of deserving contenders, "The Takedown" edges out all others. This track sets a searing pace for the forty four minutes and change that follow.
Ryan's muse remains nameless on "Fighting", but it's no question how much he wants his money's worth out of the relationship. "Do you feel anything", he challenges almost tauntingly. Of course, the optimist in him never falters. "I'll never give up," he repeats throughout. Longineu Parsons' regularly Godlike drumming steals the show here, particularly on the verses. "Shrink the World" signals a readiness to move on. "Please let me out," Key cries as the band's trademark of nostalgic imagery weaves a tail of a connection that's run its course. "A life in love, a picture of a place I'm nowhere near," he confesses. He's there physically, but his heart isn't in it anymore. On "Keeper", Ryan sings of the unforgiving reality of outliving his usefulness and how soon the one he thought he could trust kicks him to the curb. "I'm watching you leaving me now....you had a breakthrough and now I'm just bad news for you," he bitterly laments. Mendez and Pete Mosely pair nicely on guitar and bass, the former letting his instrument shimmer ever so subtly as the melancholy dominates most of the landscape.
"Five Becomes Four" is about the band's tumultuous parting of ways with former guitarist Ben Harper. Harper got into some trouble with the law in between album cycles, as well as some creative differences with the band, and Ryan Key was ultimately the one tasked with telling Ben to leave the band. Ryan Mendez slipped in so Yellowcard wouldn't be down a man, but good God, what a spectacle the resulting track is. Ryan and company pour their hearts out on this one. "Do you close your eyes and think of me," Key asks his departing friend. "Dear Bobbie" is a stylistic change of pace from the rest of the album, opting this time for acoustic guitars and graceful pianos. Ryan conjures a story of a love lost to time and the promise both parties made to each other. "When I die, then I die loving you," he pledges. "Cut Me, Mick" has its title derived from the Rocky
franchise, specifically a request the Italian Stallion makes to his beloved trainer Mickey Goldmill so he can finish the fight. Key applies this idiom to a cry to the listener to "bring me back to life," as if he can't live without them.
The title track "Paper Walls" closes the effort, gliding in on some shining violin respites and a chanting chorus. Had Yellowcard stayed apart after this album, this would honestly have been a perfectly serviceable and appropriate note to end things on. There is a bit of finality and decisiveness in Ryan's delivery. "When our ink runs out, we'll burn it to the ground," he emphatically declares. Of course, I think the band themselves recognized this and didn't want to leave any stone unturned. In case this was the end (thank God
it wasn't), they wanted to impart the listener with some words of encouragement. "You will never be alone," the moving chorus goes. Even if this is the swan song, at least we'd have this and a brief but brilliant back catalog to skim through. Thankfully, Yellowcard dried our tears and enhanced our summer nights for almost a decade further.
is just one of several essential entries in the Yellowcard canon. All of the band's familiar hallmarks are present on every track. Perhaps it'd have garnered even more luster and reappraisal had the band permanently bowed out after this. Perhaps that same prestige can no longer be assigned to their self titled curtain call now that we get an epilogue. I'm trying to be careful about the language I use. I want it to be so much more
than an epilogue. I want what I thought was the end to now be the middle. I want an elongated reassembly, one that adds as many more meaningful chapters to this beautiful story as the band thinks they have left in them. I don't mean to sound ungrateful for what we already have, especially as someone who didn't have them in his line of sight for so many years. But I guess that's what happens when someone or something touches your soul as much as Yellowcard and their music have touched mine. Of course, only time will tell if the Riot Fest reunion currently on the docket for September is the first of just one, some, or many. I'm cautiously but secretly hyper
hopeful for the latter. Welcome back, Yellowcard. Let's just keep driving on.