As much as they’ve become one of pop-punk’s brightest hopes over the past couple of years, Real Friends have become the butt of various jokes floating round the scene. They’ve been unanimously declared poster boys for the oft-derided ‘sad boys’ sect of the genre, as well as their recurring “sleepy eyes and bony knees” motif becoming somewhat of a meme to the true pop-punk devotees. That doesn’t materialise on second album The Home Inside My Head, itself a sign of progression, but that’s really all you’ll find as this album is largely Real Friends doing more of the same, albeit very well.
In reality, The Home Inside My Head could be a continuation of their debut, given that there isn’t much musical deviation. They follow the same school of thought as The Wonder Years with a more mature, emo-flavoured take on pop-punk. It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise then, that Real Friends do bear a fair few similarities to Pennsylvania’s finest; Dan Lambton has a similar vocal timbre to Dan Campbell (though lacking the same fantastic rawness and pathos), and both have a knack for some emotional, downright grief-stricken music. Empty Picture Frames wears both its heart and its sepia filter prominently on its sleeve, and Mess has a decent pace and huge hook that juxtaposes well with its emotional, downcast lyrics. The fact that both Death Cab For Cutie and Dashboard Confessional are namechecked on this album is telling, as Real Friends seem to channel the heavy emotion of both into their music, while still making it completely accessible.
It may sound strange, but it becomes clear over the course of The Home Inside My Head that Real Friends are that rarest of beasts – a pop-punk band with an identity all of their own. While the genre tends to diverge into two paths – the super-melodic, unashamedly populist side, and the fist-pumping, hardcore-tinged side – Real Friends fit into neither. The likes of Keep Lying To Me and the rousing Colder Quicker definitely have a poppy zeal to them, but are much meatier and fuller than the genre’s most mainstream commodities. It really comes in the emo influence, giving the album a richer, thicker feel that benefits them greatly, all while still being completely hook-laden. It really does work to their advantage, making for an album that’s both massively infectious and likeable, and packed with plenty of substance.
The main thing that lets The Home Inside My Head down is the lyrics, and their seemingly binary switch between confessional and an angsty teenager’s bad poetry. Yes, the point of emo is to bear all and exorcise demons, but it feels as though Real Friends go overboard sometimes. These moments are in the minority for sure, but it can’t be ignored that lines like “I live in the middle of a lake / And I don’t know how to swim” or “I’m a rain cloud / And the sun is shining right through me” are so diabolically over-egged that they do bring the album down a bit. And with a couple of less-than-stellar cuts like the syrupy tweeness of Eastwick or the sluggishly passive Mokena, The Home Inside My Head is just prevented from crossing the threshold from a ‘good’ album to a ‘great’ one.
But it shouldn’t be ignored that this is a good album. Especially given its lack of real advancement in sound and its fair share of lyrical misfires, Real Friends have managed to land on their feet with this one. The Home Inside My Head really does everything it needs to – it’s punchy, it displays a decent level of emotion but has a maturity that keeps itself firmly planted in the ground without becoming too overblown. And while it’s unlikely to be the best pop-punk album released this year, it’ll definitely keep people satisfied, and Real Friends can continue being the happiest sad boys around.
For fans of: The Wonder Years, Knuckle Puck, The Dangerous Summer
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘The Home Inside My Head’ by Real Friends is out now on Fearless Records.