Feel may not have been the opus that it hinted at being at some points, but nevertheless, it elevated Sleeping With Sirens to the very pinnacle of the Warped Tour pile. It also blessed the Floridians with the most success they’ve ever had – a number three album on the US Billboard Chart, a high-profile slot on the Main Stage of Reading and Leeds and a huge world tour with Pierce The Veil. But what seems to concern Sleeping With Sirens is breaking out of their incredibly restrictive scene and into the wider world. That’s why Madness shuns all notable Warped Tour clichés and takes their rock back to basics.
And at most points it is really basic. Rather than the typical scene features of breakdowns and inter-woven lyrical metaphors and imagery, Madness goes the complete opposite direction entirely, favouring clean, uncomplicated riffs, simple lyrics and choruses consisting of largely monosyllabic shouts. While that all may sound like a criticism, much of Madness‘s charm comes in its straightforwardness. Opening duo Kick Me and Go Go Go are the kind of songs that great albums are built on, the former sounding like The Used at their most potent, while the pop-punk hooks and joyfully bright chorus of the latter make up the kind of song that will undoubtedly soundtrack summers for years to come. Elsewhere, the more mid-tempo Save Me A Spark presents a level-headed, mature approach to songwriting in a bittersweet but largely anthemic ballad. Even when some of Madness‘s lyrical content fails to make an impact, there are moments where they are often saved by the music itself; Better Off Dead occasionally comes across as a largely maudlin aphorism of depression and angst, while We Like It Loud‘s chorus offers very little of lyrical substance to the table, but the gutsy post-hardcore riffs they find themselves paired with are somewhat of a saving grace. It’s moments like these that suggest a poppier, spikier volteface is a worthwhile endeavour.
That’s a fact highlighted even more clearly by the slower, more stripped-back songs which make up a disappointingly large chunk of Madness‘s tracklist. Gold is a painfully twee effort which is akin to what Mumford And Sons would sound like if they stepped into the 21st Century, while Heroine pushes guitars to the sidelines in favour of sluggish electronics, and the acoustic title track is just plain boring to listen to. While this may be the main theme to these inclusions, there are a couple of exceptions – The Strays‘ peppy buildup from single acoustic guitar to full band is definitely enjoyable, and Fly at the very least has some sort of swagger that drives it along. Still, even with these, it’s strange to see an album whose harder-edged moments are some of the best songs that Sleeping With Sirens have ever written so saturated with sub-par material.
Because of its uneven nature, it’s difficult to truly like Madness. At points, it’s a clear step in the right direction towards being a genuinely great pop-rock band, though at others it feels like a missed grab for mainstream success, with an overall feeling of confusion as to why these two elements were fused together in one record. It could be said though that this leaves Sleeping With Sirens at a crossroads, with two very different ways in which they can advance their career. And if nothing else, it’ll be interesting to see what happens next.
For fans of: Paramore, The Used, Never Shout Never
Words by Luke Nuttall