Capturing the ears, hearts and minds of thousands of fans is a feat for any band to accomplish. To keep that fan base with a transition in sound is another. For The Front Bottoms, that would mean eight years of hard work down the drain. But, for the most part, ‘Back On Top’ is a smooth, less radical transition.
What gained the New Jersey folk-punk outfit a fan base to entertain on the road was their sense of authenticity in sound. The band’s self-titled record hit home in 2011 with hit after hit. It didn’t matter that ‘Flashlight’ or ‘Rhode Island’ weren’t big commercial hits; the two-piece had genuine lyrics and a stripped back sound centred around vocalist Brian Sella‘s simple acoustic guitar riffs.
Fast forward four years and we have a slightly different story. ‘Back On Top’ has seen The Front Bottoms sign to a new label and record their second album as a four-piece. There’s a differentiation in sound and, instead of singing about taking steroids and drinking beers, we have songs about the trials of growing up and getting sick of partying all the time.
Transitioning sound is never easy. What made ‘Flashlight’ such a hit for Sella and co. was its low production value and authentic lead guitar sound. It was a song anyone could play while also being their favourite song to see live. It was simple. Contrast that with ‘Historic Cemetery’ and things seem different. Heavy distorted guitars and thunderous drum fills is a far cry from The Front Bottoms of yesteryear, but the captivating singalong lyricism is still ever present.
Sella never falls short of coming up with a sombre moment on this record. From yearning over days gone by in ‘Historic Cemetery’ to the melancholic ‘West Virginia’, and ‘Laugh Till I Cry’ talks of growing out of the drunkenness. But, Sella does fall short drastically by falling into the platitude singalong on ‘Plastic Flowers’, so much so that it almost feels evangelical: “I believe that someone out there has a plan for me, even if I don’t know it yet.”
Through all the pop keyboards, including the dreadful advertisement ready one of ‘The Plan (Fuck Jobs)’, and overdriven guitars and drums, ‘Back On Top’ can be largely enjoyable in areas. It becomes difficult not to sing along to ‘Laugh Till I Cry’ and opener ‘Motorcycle’, while ‘West Virginia’ brings a blissful nostalgia of Weezer that you begin to forget that that may have been what they were going for.
Written by Calvin Robinson (@CalvParty)