All Time Low have grown up...sort of.
There’s something of a sea change sweeping through alternative music in 2017. After four years away, Paramore have bounced back into action looking and sounding like a fully-fledged pop band. Linkin Park recently did similar, while cosying up to mainstream figures like Stormzy and Kiiara.
At the start of the year, even homegrown heroes You Me At Six got in on the act, adding some Royal Blood-like, chart-friendly rock grit to their arsenal. The sign of a collective identity crisis? Or are our long-established stars merely evolving, reinventing and experimenting with the parameters of what they do?
Cynics will cry sell-out, wondering if the global success of Twenty One Pilots has shown how crossing over from the alternative world can be fruitful. One thing’s for certain, the game has changed and these days an open mind is essential for judging each case on its own individual merits (or lack of). With that in mind, welcome to the new All Time Low album. It’s very different.
Smart lead single ‘Dirty Laundry’ is a decent indicator of just how much the one-time pop-punks have changed. Its delicate, sparse build-and-explode approach is largely typical of what ‘Last Young Renegade’ has to offer – anthemic yet atmospheric songs that are subtly affecting.
You can listen to it right below.
For the most part, guitars take a back seat while synthesizers lead the way, Rian Dawson comes to the fore with canny percussive input and sonic effects whizz in and out of earshot on almost every track.
Throughout it all – thanks to Alex Gaskarth’s immediately identifiable voice and way with words anchoring everything – it’s still very much All Time Low. The quartet just sound more like a band of grown men approaching their 30s arguably should sound.
If that sounds off-putting, think for a second how embarrassing it would be if they were just pretending to be teenagers, putting on the act of younger men and sounding soulless in the process. Many lesser bands do.
The one thing that hasn’t changed is All Time Low’s knack for penning enormous earworms. There’s no filler to be found among these 10 tracks and every song has a hook that you’ll probably need professionally dislodged.
Fittingly, there’s a lot of self-examination accompanying these new sounds; Alex taking himself apart through the prism of a cast of semi-conceptual characters. It makes for some brave and honest revelations (“Somewhere in between who I used to be / And who I’ll be tomorrow when the champagne blows my mind / Thrills don’t come for free, the price you pay for dreams / In a sea of strangers, I can’t find me any more,” on ‘Life Of The Party’, for example).
Honesty and bravery are words that best sum up what the four-piece are attempting here, actually. Even the band’s harshest critics would do well to listen to late-album highlight ‘Ground Control’ (featuring star vocal turns from Tegan And Sara) and deny that this is a bold, ambitious effort to be applauded.
It isn’t the first time All Time Low have tried stepping out of their comfort zone. But six years after the chastening experience involved in ‘Dirty Work’, this one feels like a move that makes so much sense – artistically, commercially and personally. It’s a huge leap of faith. But they’ve landed on some fertile ground.