For Fans Of
There’s a distinctive pattern emerging in the way Four Year Strong undergo the creation of their albums. Since 2007, the Massachusetts band has followed a musically accomplished and well-received release with a comparatively lacklustre effort, and unfortunately, this is a trend that continues with their latest full-length, ‘In Some Way, Shape Or Form’. The new LP sees the band diluting their own patented formula of enticingly catchy, fast-paced pop punk songs laced with powerful, driving breakdowns in favour of a sound that seems to derive much of its sensibilities from radio-friendly rock. The result is a decidedly bland affair that sands off the greater majority of the punctuating, soaring hooks, engrossing vocal interplay and intense, musically-interesting instrumentation that characterised the band’s previous effort ‘Enemy Of The World‘. Despite making several concessions to long-time listeners of the band, this is an album that will alienate most of Four Year Strong’s existing fanbase.
Following the band’s inception, the “happy hardcore” or “easycore” sound that they helped pioneer with ‘It’s Our Time’ and ‘Rise Or Die Trying’ has been widely adopted by bands across the entire pop punk scene, who look to the crossover genre as a way of cutting themselves a slice of the mosh, hardcore and metalcore listening demographics. Because of this, a new direction to help differentiate themselves would be a natural, understandable course of action, but the road the band has chosen to take reeks of compromise and musical concessions. Alarm bells began to ring upon the initial release of album track ‘Stuck In The Middle’. Despite maintaining the fun, upbeat persona and fast-paced tempo of the band’s classic songs, the actual musicality of the track comes off as washed down, lacking the enticing, hook-heavy punch and harder, mosh-friendly edge that older fans have come to expect from the band. The track’s vocal melodies, chord progressions and even the introductory riff incorporate a large influence from radio rock in the vein of bands like Foo Fighters, and this is a sound that more accustomed ears will chew up and spit out. This is especially true of the song’s insipid and annoying bridge.
Unfortunately, this track sets the resounding trend for most of the album, resulting in a laborious and tiresome listening process. The dynamic shifts and tuneful accessibility of dual vocalists Dan O’Connor and Alan Day are the album’s principle casualties, despite maintaining the rough, punchy forcefulness that serves as the defining element of the band’s personality. With the exception of standout tracks like the brilliant ‘The Security Of The Familiar, The Tranquility Of Repetition’, the pair’s vocal melodies sound largely uninspired, with weakly-dealt hooks that fail to leave a lasting impression on the listener. The choruses of tracks like ‘Bring On The World’ are bland, monotonous and predictable, both lyrically and musically, and this detracts heavily from the band’s appeal, hampered further by the pair’s abandonment of most of their pleasing and accessible pop punk sensibilities. Additionally, their dynamic vocal interplay is considerably less interesting on this album, with Day and O’Connor all too often nestling into supporting roles for the other on tracks like ‘Stuck In The Middle’, rather than continually trading off lines and switching the spotlight between them.
The instrumentation and songwriting suffers from the same monotone whitewash, resulting in an album weighed down heavily by filler tracks that lack any entitlement of lasting appeal or listener remembrance. Most of the chord progressions and guitar lines on this album share the bland predictability of the vocal melodies they anchor, to the point where even standout track ‘The Security Of The Familiar, The Tranquility Of Repetition’ is bookended with an uninteresting, throwaway riff. The album also suffers from several marked lapses in coherency, especially on the track ‘Fairweather Fan‘. Given the wider context of the album, the song’s breakneck energy, melodic hardcore influences and intense, shouted gang vocals become an almost laughable concession to longstanding fans of the band, displaying fading remnants of a signature sound that they have chosen to smother beneath a sea of radio rock sensibilities. And yet, despite every misstep the band has made, the album cannot be considered a terrible release despite its largely indistinguishable monotony, and is competent even if it does lack most forms of musical accomplishment. The band everyone fell in love with on ‘Rise Or Die Trying’ and ‘Enemy Of The World’ is still buried deep within this album somewhere, allowing themselves brief, fleeting moments of breathing time above the surface to keep them alive. One can only hope that Four Year Strong will emerge to their full potential on their next release.
‘In Some Way, Shape Or Form’ is a competent, coherent, but decidedly unfortunate release for Four Year Strong that sees them discarding most of the pop punk and melodic hardcore sensibilities that leant them their widespread accessibility and crossover appeal in the first place. The band’s trademark hard-biting, soaring hooks and dynamic vocal interplay laced with large, well-positioned nods to a heavier sound have taken the wayside on this album, weighed down beneath a wall of influences sourced largely from contemporary radio rock. Despite having the potential to please some fans, it is inevitable that this dramatic shift will isolate many longstanding listeners of the band.
1. The Infected
2. The Security of the Familiar, the Tranquility of Repetition
3. Stuck in the Middle
4. Just Drive
5. Fairweather Fan
6. Sweet Kerosene
7. Falling on You
8. Heaven Wasn’t Built to Hold Me
10. Bring on the World
11. Fight the Future
12. Only the Meek Get Pinched, the Bold Survive