It is strange to believe The Front Bottoms are now on their seventh album. The duo of lead vocalist/guitarist Brian Sella and drummer Mathew Uychich have turned their hands to varied material over the past decade, resulting in a few hits and some misses. The band’s 2011 self-titled debut was impressive overall, while their last release Going Grey attempted an ambient twist on pop with heavy grunge riffs – as the title suggested, it sounded old, or at least nothing new.
Their latest, In Sickness & In Flames, does much the same. Despite a few promising moments here and there, it runs out of steam quickly. Opener Everyone Blooms gives an inclination that this record is to be a banal attempt at melodious pop. The band are attempting to draw out pop punk, but it shows they’re playing it safe. The mellow acoustic intro is pleasant to listen to, but it soon turns into another derivative version of pop punk in the style of the early 2000s – think Blink-182, a band they seemingly wish to imitate. A positive of the song is that the background string section is unexpected, but it’s not especially noticeable with the cacophony smothering it.
The following number Camouflage is more refreshing, jumping straight to the action with a jangly acoustic riff, all energy and emotion. But Sella tackles the heartache of personal relationships in an odd manner, especially when he sings “And to think I was having a mental breakdown, the same time you were painting your walls”. It’s so peculiarly random as to be meaningless. Anyone could have written lyrics like this, even if it is tackling a tough subject. The track Jerk seems to optimise the banal pop punk aesthetic, and the title is the cliché of all clichés. The chorus is plucked from the cringe section of annoying pop punk from the early 2000s with the constant repetition of “like a jerk”. This track is appealing to the rebellious teenager of yesteryear, but what it (and the band) apparently fail to recognise is that audiences that grow up.
The album, however, does have some hope in that the track The Hard Way is a well-layered song with a classic rock approach. It is balanced nicely with wider elements that fill the track up. The occasional spark of light features again on the second half of the album with Fairbanks, Alaska, which has a half-decent beat and features harmonies that lift the track up, while Uycheich lays a funky beat. These sparks give the album at least some substance, but not enough for it to demonstrate that The Front Bottoms have revived their early buzzing material.
The Front Bottoms here have underperformed with what is a tiresome collection of repetitive songs that don’t require much effort to listen to. But even with songs that are easy on the ear, you still need to strike a chord. The Front Bottoms haven’t grasped that pulling the same old tricks from the book again and again doesn’t get you far. It just makes them outdated and predictable.