Review Summary: I guess this is(n’t) growing up
Trying to puzzle out what exact metric would be most appropriate to measure Toxic Positivity
against has caused me quite the headache (see para 4 for spoilers). The 9th project from the Utah melodrama merchants is, as will come as no surprise to those who caught the pre-release singles, not the band’s most ambitious work. Through truncated track lengths and a great deal of nip-ing and tuck-ing, the guys have successfully distilled the 15-year-old-flavoured angst of their earlier works into a more marketable version of the same, tightly tailored for (one presumes) the equally angsty 15-year-olds of 2023. There are still drop-D riffs all over the shop, sprinkled with a fresh batch of “me quite sad now” metaphors and mildly macabre thematics of Lies for the Liars
heritage, except now it’s been strained through a safer, plainer, radio-friendly-er sieve.
What this means: the choruses are big and #relatable - the tracklist, including such nuggets as “I Hate Everybody”, “Numb” and “Giving Up” shall, no doubt, speak for itself - whilst the backing instrumental body, sporting fruity synth-leads and compressed-through-a-dishwasher guitar tones, does all that it needs to frame the glistening anxiety in increasingly anthemic robes. I am pleased to confirm that the sum total is, before my tone misleads you, a thoroughly entertaining listen (wut).
is stuffed wall-to-wall with bangers, each as tight as a highstreet accountant and clean as your grandma’s linens. If you were to approach its particular brand of pop punk adorned w/ paper mache teeth with anything close to the degree of seriousness warranted by the very-good-ness of a In Love and Death
, and therefore decide to laugh off the simplified songcraft here, then I’d suggest the joke may well be on you. The gateway ‘heavy album’ status that this record so obviously shoots for is done so well, and in such a carefree and unashamed manner that, even as someone about 10 years beyond its target demographic, I can’t help but beam like an idiot throughout. From the pink-bubbly glee of “Top of the World” to the plastesine-snot and faux-grit of riff-bomb “Pinky Swear”, Toxic Positivity
is a joy to inhabit - as dumb and refreshingly self-aware fun for the whole family. That this commercialisation is achieved without completely selling their souls is all the more pleasing - sure, anything approaching creative risk was ripped clean off the LP at approximately the same time as their parental advisory sticker, but McCracken still has a wonderful set of pipes on him, and the Alex Pardee -styled cartoonish air that the band have championed over the years remains well intact nonetheless.
Ideally, no: this is not the direction I wanted to see a lifelong musical companion go down when approaching the twilight years of their career - The Canyon
was, for its flaws, a more interesting artistic decision (I’m told); but, given accessibility lane is an apparently inevitable direction so many artists of their era/genre have already walked down witlessly, I’d much rather that The Used go willingly and with good intentions then be dragged kicking and screaming. Everything about Toxic Positivity
was a deliberate choice - including, but not limited to, the embroidered “no one understands me” pillows, idiot’s guide to gang vocals and well-intentioned central message (see closer) - and so, whether you love or hate it, do not attribute the guys’ latest lumbering gear shift to a lack of agency. Rejoice, instead, in the fact that a 20 year old band are still able to conjure a flutter of elation in an increasingly jaded (and no longer young) adult (me!). The value of formative stepping stones is oft undersung, too, and that
, perhaps, is the metric this should be judged against. If you have a rather angsty 15-year-old living under your roof, give them this album. They’ll thank you later, eventually, I promise; just give it about 10 years or so.