October , 2012
Review by Rachel Walters
All Time Low
Label: Hopeless Records
I'm going to say this fairly simple and matter-of-fact. Don't Panic, the new record by All Time Low, makes me proud to be a fan. Yes, the Baltimore boys have redeemed themselves this time around by releasing a catchy, pop rock album that is sure to have fans humming several of the tunes on this album before it's all said and done.
I came across All Time Low at age 11 when I first heard the song "Dear Maria, Count Me In" on the radio. On the next shopping trip out with mom, I bought the group's So Wrong, It's Right, without having any idea what pop-punk music was. I quickly learned. The relatable lyrics and catchy choruses of songs like "Six Feet Under the Stars" and "Poppin' Champaign" were captivating. I had no idea how the then 19-year old vocalist, Alex Gaskarth, could write such mature songs anchored by youthful melodies I could relate to. Then again, this band had been together since they were freshmen and sophomores in high school, so maybe I shouldn't have been all that surprised of the youthful spirit they captured in their music
When All Time Low came out with Nothing Personal in 2009, it reaffirmed my commitment to the band. I couldn't say the same for their major label debut in 2011, Dirty Work. To put it simply, I was crushed. You would have thought signing to Interscope Records was a step forward for this band. Instead, it was a giant leap backwards. The unimpressive, sugary-coated pop tracks left me wondering if All Time Low had completely lost its focus as they stumbled clumsily to please their new masters. And just when I am about to give up on the band, I find out they have left Interscope to go back to their former Indie label, Hopeless Records. Something was up.
The release of Don't Panic made me want to scream with joy. Whatever mistakes All Time Low had previously committed were gone. This album was reminiscent of the So Wrong, It's Right days. The 12-song record was full of cutting humor, honest lyrics, and hard-edged guitar playing. The opening track, "The Reckless and The Brave", bleeds youth at every angle. Gaskarth sings of his struggles being an outsider and his fight to escape "a town called Suburbia". Drummer Rian Dawson's high-powered cymbal crashing tops out this song.
The best track on this album is "If These Sheets Were States". Lead guitarist Jack Barakat's energetic guitar riffs draw you into the song, but it is Gaskarth's lyrics exposing his loneliness and broken heart, that compel you to listen. The singer describes how he has "settled for long distance calls" and begs for the opportunity to have "one more chance" to no avail. I'm not sure what's going on in Alex's personal life right now, but this romantic tragedy he describes made for a great song. If I had been the object of Gaskarth's desire and heard this tune written to me, I'd hop on a plane to Baltimore just to see if he meant every word he sang.
"Somewhere in Neverland" is a true pop anthem with Gaskarth's various Peter Pan references sweetening the deal. The bumping bass, courtesy of Zachary Merrick, keeps Barakat's electric guitar balanced. This is the type of uplifting composition the band's last album sorely missed. The ‘forever young' feeling this song inspires makes growing up the last thing you feel like doing.
The major label experiment with All Time Low is hopefully behind them. Returning to Hopeless was definitely the right move for this band. For some reason, Interscope Records just didn't understand what these Baltimore pop-punk boys were all about. Instead they attempted to turn the group into some type of homogenized pop tarts and they simply lost their way.
Give the group credit for recognizing the crossroads they faced and for taking the bold step they took to correct the situation. Great bands ‘don't panic' when they are faced with career-defining decisions. They just make them and move on. With this new recording, All Time Low is back on track creating rock-driven songs of love, loss and the pursuit of being young. Amen to that!