16 Jan EP Recommendation: All Time Low’s Put Up Or Shut Up
This past week, All Time Low released a new song off their forthcoming LP, Future Hearts. There has been a general excitement surrounding the record’s imminent release with promises of throwback, early 2000s pop-punk drumming; and collaboration from producer John Feldmann, Good Charlotte’s Joel Madden, and pop-punk legend Mark Hoppus of Blink-182 (by the way, it’s looking like ATL will actually release the song they did with Mark this time around). Don’t Panic was a return to form of sorts for the band after the very disappointing Dirty Work, and it appears that All Time Low is once again trending in a positive direction. That being said, I was vastly disappointed by the new single, “Something’s Gotta Give.”
I had always been a tremendous fan of Alex Gaskarth’s songwriting ability. He has always had a natural ear for hooks and melody ever since they released The Party Scene at just 17 years old. He can still sing with the best of them in the scene, but the lyrics lead me to wonder if his well of songs is beginning to run dry. Absent from this track are the clever and quotable lines like there are on the colossal chorus of “Weightless” (“Maybe it’s not my weekend/But it’s gonna be my year”), and in their place are sing-songy, obvious rhyme schemes with no real lyrical depth (I woke up in a strangers bed/with pins and needles in my head/and the clock’s ticking off the wall/oh yeah, oh yeah). In addition to this, the guitar work is boring, the transition to the last chorus is the same gang vocals/empty bass-snare beat they’ve used on countless bridges over the years, and I know Rian Dawson is a far better drummer than he shows on this song. There is no drive or sense of urgency anymore. I kept waiting for the song to go somewhere; anywhere, but it never did. I don’t want to say that they aren’t trying anymore because I know they are. I know they still give a shit about the music they’re putting out, I just don’t hear the heart in it like I used to. I don’t know. Maybe it’s just me.
I was in high school when All Time Low were in their prime. During that period of time, they were without question my favorite band and they dominated pop-punk in an era where most bands lost sight of what was truly important; the music. 2005 to roughly 2009 is generally defined as the “Myspace” or “Neon” Era of pop-punk. As a collective unit, the scene began focusing more on ostentatious t-shirts and haircuts, rather than spending more time on progressing the genre as whole and writing good songs. Now, All Time Low have delved into their fair share of gimmicks and “look how silly we are” photo-shoots; however, their music never suffered for it in my eyes.
My high school years were bookended by two full-length releases from the band: The Party Scene, ATL’s debut LP was released the summer going into my freshman year (July 19th, 2005); and their breakthrough record, Nothing Personal was the soundtrack of my summer after graduation (July 7th, 2009). They’re songs were unbelievably catchy, and the band became synonymous with summertime and long cruises with the windows down and the volume as high as it can go. It was a time when I personally was getting into songwriting, and it seemed like All Time Low was the only band making all the right calls. They were a monumental influence on me which I guess is why I continue to check in on what they are doing now, even after some sub-par releases.
My recommendation for this week is to listen to some classic ATL. What All Time Low is now has not tainted their old material for me. That’s why every now and then (especially in the summer) I find myself reaching for the band’s first EP, Put Up Or Shut Up. The EP is seven songs deep, and is equal parts nostalgia and fun.
After getting on Hopeless Records’ roster, All Time Low were given the opportunity to re-record five songs from The Party Scene with crisper and more consistent production, including a revamped, full band version of “Running From Lions.” Put Up Or Shut Up opens with the distorted palm mutes and the screaming harmonic of “Coffee Shop Soundtrack.” The rest of the band comes in full force, leading us to the verse with sliding background guitarwork, smoothly flowing lyrics, and standard time drumming with cymbal bell and tomb highlights. Alex pushes himself throughout the song (and on most sections of the EP) to get the most out of his voice without any trace of whine or cracks. He writes with confidence, and at times, I feel his lyrics rival Pete Wentz, the Fall Out Boy bassist that is widely regarded as one of the best lyricists in the scene. Alex words sometimes cocky, sometimes self-deprecating, sometimes sarcastic; however, they always flow well from one lyric to the next. One statement or thought can often be carried through an entire ATL verse or chorus; whereas now, on the newer material, it feels as though Alex is writing choppy from line to line or bar to bar.
I long for the good old days of All Time Low, back when they were basically still kids trying to make it. Instead of constructing pop-punk anthems like “Jasey Rae,” my personal favorite, they are now building standard pop-rock songs with no layers and far too many holes. I really just wish All Time Low matured with my tastes, rather than against them. I still hold onto hope that the band can find it once again; like maybe “Something’s Gotta Give” is not indicative to how the rest of the record with sound. The talent still shines through on that Put Up Or Shut Up EP and if all else fails, we can be sure that the lyrics of that “Jasey Rae” bridge will continue to speak to generations and generations of pop-punk kids for years to come: “I’ve never told a lie, and that makes me a liar/I’ve never made a bet but we gamble with desire/I’ve never lit a match with intent to start a fire/but recently the flames are getting out of control.”
Whatever happens, I’ll always enjoy revisiting this EP.