This time last year, Baltimore's beloved pop punk quartet All Time Low found themselves with a split in their fanbase and were being viewed as fairly average with the release of their fourth album Dirty Work. And it's little wonder. With the band's claim that the album was the sound of them growing up, it was a very bland collection of pop rock songs with little in them that sparked them to life. And in the same year where You Me At Six also promised a maturity in their music and released the phenomenal Sinners Never Sleep, it left listeners looking at releases like Dirty Work and New Found Glory's Radiosurgery and becoming very much insecure about the ability for pop punk to last on.
It seems that the band clearly paid attention to the growing circles of "meh" that came with Dirty Work and took on a back to basics idea with their latest offering Don't Panic. Generally, if a band does go straight back to a previous style after a previous album goes down less well (I really don't need to say "See Metallica" do I?) it's viewed as just backing away as a move of fear and wish to pander to the masses. But sometimes when it's done brilliantly, then it just works. And that's the success of this new album. Because every song on this album just so happens to be a complete banger.
No time is wasted and massive riffs from Alex Gaskarth and Jack Barakat kick the album into action on lead single The Reckless and the Brave with nothing you wouldn't expect from All Time Low. Big choruses, sweetening hooks and a vocal performance from Gaskarth recklessly encased in sugary pop delight. With elevated production across the album the guitar work has a much bigger outing than on previous releases and that's including 2009's stellar Nothing Personal. And that production makes tunes like To Live And Let Go feature genuine walls of distortion, in the poppiest way possible.
It would be terrifying to come out with a statement like "All Time Low have an understanding of how making metal works" because they're a prime example of a band that would confuse you if you saw them in the Metal section of HMV. But an understanding on making highly genuine punk music with a hardcore edge does come across in the rapid fire attack of So Long Soldier, the true definition of pop hardcore if there is one that even has breakdowns that suggest attention payed to fellow metalcore bands. Yes, Warped Tour standard metalcore. They're not turning into Throwdown.
Even with this greater desire to amp things up greater than before, the band do still find that time to show off that big pop band that we all know they are. The softer performance of Outlines is a much smoother and emotional offering from the band while the bitterness of Thanks To You shows their ability to really pen down a song that carries the context of feelings with total understanding. Moments like these show a greater maturity within the band than anything on Dirty Work, and that was the entire goal of the album.
So without trying to completely berate last year's ambitious release, Don't Panic really does wipe the floor with Dirty Work. It has the sound of All Time Low refreshed, back on the path to put real adrenaline into a world of pop music that has gone way down in it's quality and be as emotional as they are explosive. There will be many who consider this a lazy return to what made them popular but with the energy, heightened production and all out massiveness that are on these songs, they certainly prove that they're doing what made them popular with much more passion than ever before. And that's the kind of attitude that keeps pop punk alive.
All Time Low's Don't Panic is out now via Hopeless. The band will tour the UK in February.