Saturday, March 6, 2021
A Day to Remember - You're Welcome
Two elephants I've gotta knock out right away:
1) "Why the fuck are you talking about this band?": I like ADTR, sorry yo. I've racked up hundreds of plays over the years, they're one of the few bands my wife and I both like, they were a highlight of Riot Fest 2012, they're just a damn fun time and I've enjoyed them ever since I first heard "Downfall of Us All" like a decade ago. I know now that "easycore" was a short lived scene back in the day helmed by acts like The Wonder Years and New Found Glory, but the first time I heard a band hopscotch between Killswitch Engage and Yellowcard my brain just couldn't comprehend it. It's such a compatible blend and I'd never even considered it. So naturally I'm gonna latch on to the first I heard, and that just so happens to be A Day to Remember. Also let's be real, my production has been super slow this year and this is one of the few albums I heard and immediately had something to say.
2) "This album fucking sucks, there is only one heavy song this time!": Well, yes and no. I may like the band despite them clashing with what most readers know me for, but there's really no way to sugar coat it, You're Welcome is really fucking bad. However it's not a pure pop album like a lot of disappointed fans are claiming. Don't get me wrong, it's far and away their lightest and least beefy album, but it's kinda natural that the band would soften over time since they've always had soft influences in their music and they undeniably hit their peak in popularity when they released "All I Want" as a single, which at the time was the most radio friendly pop punk type song they'd written up to that point. Let's not act surprised that they've been chasing that dragon for a decade. But back to the original point, this is much closer to What Separates Me from You than any given album in the Millennial Monogenre*. The parallels are actually pretty hilarious because it seems like they're deliberately trying to strike that same lightning in a bottle. "Last Chance to Dance" is the only song that's heavy most of the way through, but "2nd Sucks" was the only song that was heavy the whole way through on that 2010 album. They only had two other songs that amped up the metalcore portion of their sound, those being the opener and one more near the end, which is uh, exactly what they did this time too. The actual quality across the board is much lower here, but people bellyaching that they've abandoned their old style are both dead wrong and way behind on the times, because you're never getting another For Those Who Have Heart and you weren't going to get another one at any point since 2007.
I enjoy What Separates Me from You. It's not a masterpiece by any means but they were still in their prime and tracks like "All I Want" and "All Signs Point to Lauderdale" may have had zero metalcore in them but they had incredible hooks and remain huge fan favorites to this day, to say nothing of bangers like "Sticks and Bricks". The issue with You're Welcome is half new, half old. The old problem is simply that their knack for hooks has depreciated a shitload over the years. "My Life for Hire" has been stuck in my head for a decade but after several listens I still don't remember a fucking thing about "Looks Like Hell" or "Re-Entry". They're clearly aiming for hooks more than anything else by this point, but the creativity well has completely dried up at this point. And that leads to the new problem: in the absence of breakdowns and screaming, they used to rely on pop punk tropes to get by. A lot of what they did sounded like mid-era The Offspring or the one good Yellowcard song. But now?
*-Yeah that was a psyche-out, they tap into the Millennial Monogenre so fucking much on this album that it borders on parody. Tracks like "Blood Sucker", "Only Money", and "High Diving" are so derivative and uninspired that Imagine Dragons deserves royalties from this album. The band described this as a "happier" album, which yeah I suppose that's true, but by leaning on shitty EDM cliches and Millennial Whoops they've morphed into something completely indistinguishable from any given modern rock band. If you've been out of the loop, rock music in its current form is a lot less about four people playing instruments in their garage (which is fine, that scene still exists but it isn't the popular one anymore) and is much more about super glossy anthems where the guitars take a secondary role to vocal melodies and a billion layers of production tricks. That's fine, whatever, it's not for me but it's not artistically dead on arrival. The problem with this is that ADTR has gone from being the last visibly relevant easycore band with an instantly recognizable style to just another one of a billion no-name sycophants who sound exactly like this. If not for the five or six breakdowns and McKinnon's vocals, you could have told me this was the new Fall Out Boy album and I wouldn't have questioned it. McKinnon made very clear that the band's intention was to branch out, mature, and try new things without alienating old fans by becoming unrecognizable, but holy fuck did he whiff on that goal.
The band collaborated with EDM superstar, Marshmello, a few years ago, and boy howdy did that rub off on them. The Imagine Dragons knockoffs are loaded with an obnoxious wall of synth, there's annoying thudding and plonking throughout "Degenerates", even the heavy songs get infected with this as evidenced by the bloated staticy synth mirroring the guitars during the breakdowns in "Resentment" and "Viva la Mexico". I don't necessarily hate that on principle ("Degenerates" is actually one of the few tracks where classic ADTR peeks out in the bridge) but it's pervasive and unavoidable. I mean god damn the verse of "Permanent" sounds like somebody in the studio was listening to "Shut Up and Dance" by Walk the Moon and it bled into the masters and nobody noticed. These new sounds are really hamfisted and forced into tracks where they clearly don't fit. Absolutely nobody listened to "Thrash Unreal" by Against Me! and thought it would be better if David Guetta produced it but here comes A Day to Remember with "Re-Entry" to let us know how awful it would've been anyway.
I don't touch on lyrics very often, but ADTR is one of the bands where it's kind of necessary, both because the music itself isn't all that interesting beyond what I outlined in the last two paragraphs, and because they're a massive part of their appeal. I've spoken to fans both online and offline who have cited them as the best aspect of the band and to have both inspired them and helped lift them out of dark places. The thing is... are we listening to the same band? Even on the albums I like the lyrics are absolute trash and they always have been. I think McKinnon's lyrics strike such a nerve with me because they remind me of every meathead fuck I knew in high school. For a band so famous for vulnerability and positivity they are fucking loaded simultaneously with insincere machismo and woe-is-me moaning. He constantly flip flops between how much of a badass alpha chad he is ("YOU DON'T HAVE TO LIKE ME BUT YOU'RE GONNA RESPECT ME!") and how much of a put-upon victim he is ("I hate this town, it's so washed up, and all my friends don't give a fuck") and sometimes a particularly insufferable blend of the two ("This one goes out to everyone who's lied to my face! MY HEART IS FILLED WITH HATE!"). Maybe this shouldn't bother me but holy fuck everybody knows a guy who is both somebody who swears that he's somebody you don't want to fuck with while paradoxically doing nothing but complaining. There has never been any introspection or vulnerability in ADTR's lyrics. Every single song has always been about how they're going to kick your ass or about how sad they are because of external forces. It's always their shitty hometown, shitty relationships, shitty two-faced lying fake friends, hell I think Common Courtesy is their last worthwhile album but it's undeniably all about how shitty their label is. It's never problems they need to work through, it's always something else's fault. It's the living embodiment of that dude you used to know who's favorite show is South Park and lists his biggest dislike as "stupid people". Bro, if everybody you know seems to be an asshole, that might be because you're an asshole. And he constantly contradicts himself to the point of total exhaustion. He desperately needs to escape his hometown and live life on the road but he's so proud of Ocala that he'll open an album with how great his hometown is. Most of these examples are pulled from previous albums mostly because this one is so unmemorable that I can't be fucked to learn what he's saying, but the contradictory nature of the lyrics shines here too, so it's not like he's just grown as a person and the songs have taken on a different character over time. He's completely stuck as the same person he was as a teenager and everything comes off as super phony because there's no logical consistency in the messaging. "Last Chance to Dance" is about shitty lying friends who make his life miserable while "Degenerates" is about how his friends are shitty liars but they're his friends and he wouldn't trade them for the world. "F.Y.M." is about fantasizing about coming into a massive financial windfall and giving everybody the finger as he escapes his shitty life and starts over, while "Only Money" is all about the huge moments in life he's had to miss because he's always on the road and how money is pointless compared to the memories made with loved ones. Maybe this is why I stay away from looking at lyrics too hard, holy shit I hate everything that comes out of McKinnon's mouth. Nothing is ever his fault. He's the perfect specimen and everything about him that sucks can be explained by some other individual person or place. I'm all for systemic critique but that's not what he does, he just bitches about other people bringing him down while he pulls on his bootstraps just long enough to call somebody else a motherfucker before going back to complaining about how despite his undeniable success he's still a put-upon Randian Superman who isn't king of the world because somebody else is bringing him down. Fuck this shit so hard.
Okay so obviously I had an itch to scratch with the lyrical content, but hey, the lyrics are a big part of the band's brand and it turns out it's the shittiest part about them by a wide margin. The album itself is a mess regardless. It seems trite to loop back to it after a 1000 word rant about how much the lyrics get under my skin, but the fans are right when they say that You're Welcome is a shitty pop album, they're just wrong when they say that it's shitty because it's pop. It's shitty because it comes off as phony and taking influence from widely reviled bands, completely abandoning their signature sound in favor of becoming just another rando. I believe them when they say in interviews that this was a genuine effort to branch out, but they wound up sounding more plastic than the packaging the CD comes in. The Imagine Dragons comparison wasn't an exaggeration by any stretch. "Blood Sucker" sounds almost exactly like "Believer" and if that doesn't highlight why this album isn't worth checking out then I don't know what will. It's pretty telling that they've been getting pilloried for this album on social media and the first singles released have 20-30 million streams on Spotify, while the later ones have closer to 3 million and the rest of the album is struggling to break 3 thousand. The veil has been lifted and I'm far from the first person to realize this album is total dogshit.