To say that 2017’s ‘Last Young Renegade’ was divisive, is something of an understatement. No-one should begrudge a band for pushing their boundaries, and exploring a sound that’s important to them. This is precisely what All Time Low did with renegade; pursuing an EDM/synth-pop sound, at the expense of the pop-punk that had made their name.
Sure they did it well, but it was such a departure that many ATL fans couldn’t reconcile this sound with the band’s previous body of work. The band’s fan-base was still nothing to sniff at, but it’d be very naive to suggest that they didn’t shed a few fans with the release of ‘Last Young Renegade’.
‘Wake Up Sunshine’ comes at the end of a relatively long time of All Time Low inactivity. Aside from two small show’s in London and Leeds last month, the band hasn’t performed live since Slam Dunk Festival 2019. In the interim, Alex Gaskarth formed a synth-pop duo with pop-punk legend Mark Hoppus, and Jack Bakarat exorcised his emotional demons with his own side-project; Who Hurt You, with singer-songwriter Kevin Fisher. A new album from All Time Low was the last thing many expected at this time.
What is also a surprise-for fans of all eras of All Time Low-is just how good this album is. When announcing ‘Wake Up Sunshine’ All Time Low stated that ‘The Young Renegades are no more…Reintroducing your favorite disaster, All Time Low.’ And this-more than anything-sums up the sound on the record.
This album sees All Time Low returning from hiatus, so seize their crown as the kings of pop-punk. Sure, there are some synthy nods to ‘Last Young Renegades’ here, and a knowing wink to ‘Put Up or Shut Up’ there, but this album is a unique beast in the All Time Low back catalogue. Sonically, it’s closest relative is probably ‘Don’t Panic’, but thematically this is something all of its own.
All Time Low have taken the last few years to reflect on life, growing up, and friendship to produce an album that is as confident as it is introverted, and as nostalgic as it is contemporary. The songs are a collection of bombastic slabs of pop-punk, and at first glance are as brash as that description seems. However, the lyrics reflect a period of self-reflection for all members of the band. “I’ve sung this song a thousand times” from ‘Some Kind of Disaster’ shows a level of awareness that only a career in the industry and genre can provide.
While there are flashes of the old Blink-182-esque frat humour-“lyrics such as “If I said I want your body, would you hold it against me?” From ‘’Sleeping In’, most of the lyrics are more mature and nuanced in nature.
‘Melancholy Kaleidoscope’ Starts off as a standard pop-punk feel-good number: It even resembles the classic All Time Low number ‘Coffee Shop Soundtrack’. However, the lyrics reflect the anxiety of the performer “Can’t be 100, if you’re only giving 95”-clearly, the worry that an audience won’t care if the band is giving anything less than 100% persists with the band, even though their career spans almost two decades at this stage.
While there are a few deviations here and there; ‘Pretty Venom’ and ‘Monsters’ are heavily produced numbers, that come close to ‘Renegade’ in all its pomp; these are very much the exceptions rather than the rule.
The album’s highlight is almost certainly ‘Favorite Place’; a lament of a failed relationship. However, this is again delivered with a knowing wink, as frontman Gaskarth acknowledges “You’re everything I love about the things I hate in me.” This is far from the thinly veiled misogyny that intertwines a sizeable portion of pop-punk lyrics. This is the admissions of one’s culpability in the breakdown of a relationship, while looking back at the good times.
Musically, Bakarat and Gaskarth’s twin guitars deliver power-chords, as brilliantly as they’ve always done, but they’ve certainly kept hold of their effects pedals, and this is to the album’s credit, rather than detriment.
Underpinned by arguably the most underrated rhythm section in the genre: Rhian Dawson’s drumming is simply superb, and Zack Merrick’s bass playing and backing vocals do an impressive job of keeping the energetic album on track, and provide a heavy groove to tracks such as ‘Clumsy’.
While this is a ‘safer’ album than its predecessor, it’s far from a step back in musicality and lyricism. This is a band recognising what they love doing, and this is ultimately an album about that band returning to their roots. As ‘Basement Noise’ makes clear, this is a thank you to the four kids blasting power chords in a Baltimore basement. Proof, if any were needed, you can always go home.
‘Wake Up Sunshine’ is out now via Fueled by Ramen