Back in the mid-2000s when you couldn’t move for pop-rock bands, Acceptance were one of the smaller fish in the proverbial ocean of acts vying for mainstream success. It never really came to them either, with their 2005 debut Phantoms making little impact, only really sticking in the minds of other musicians many years later. The band would go on hiatus a year later, and the mere existence of Acceptance to many would be consigned to the annals of time. But more than a decade later they’re back with a long-overdue sophomore release Colliding By Design, one that feels like a band desperate to play catchup with a scene that left them behind long ago. Though listening to this album, it’s not quite clear who they’re trying to catch up to, as any pop-rock influence has almost wholly been shed in favour of something closer to The Killers’ later works. And Colliding By Design‘s similarities are numerous – windswept, highly augmented and, of course, packing in a boatload of ’80s worship.
By comparison, Colliding By Design is at least a bit more enjoyable, even though it has its fair share of problems that keep it held in middling territory without passing over into anything better. There’s a number of enjoyable moments peppered throughout this album, but almost all of them are so ephemeral that a longstanding impact is essentially nonexistent. That’s in no small part down to the production which, to be frank, is almost always overbearing in the way it overshadows the actual songs. The number of synths and effects present on these verges on overkill in a hurry, and when the AutoTune on Jason Vena’s vocals is most prominent on Come Closer and When I Was Cursed, it doesn’t sound like a single human was involved in the making of these tracks. As such, there’s a lot on this album that simply passes by without a trace, such is the result of the overproduction and the extent that it elbows the actual songs to a secondary status.
It’s clear that this is a conscious decision too; when the thicker elements of production are eased back, Acceptance can actually break through and come out with some pretty decent indie-pop. Diagram Of A Simple Man and the title track at least kick off the album well enough with shimmering guitars that don’t have much depth but mesh well with the glittery synths, and Haunted is easily the best song here with a stomp that’s almost reminiscent of pared-back glam-rock and a chorus that would lay waste to any number of arenas. Vena proves himself to be an incredibly confident frontman too, and while the abundance of vocal filters of varying intensities limits any real human qualities, there’s a poise and maturity to his more understated delivery that adds a bit more weight overall.
It’s in the lyrics where the biggest parallels to The Killers can be made though, in that the primary focus seems to be the melodramatic, Hollywood romance. From that angle alone, Acceptance do a fine enough job, with the likes of Goodbye and Haunted capturing that heady rush, albeit with less of a smart narrative angle. The problem comes when everything is put together, and the limitations that Acceptance put on themselves. The Killers at their best capture an essence of heartland rock atmosphere for a richer, more satisfying story; Acceptance have the focus and lyrical content, but given that their musical direction consists of little more than saturating everything in a thick film of electronic production, the payoff feels flatter than it should. It gets a bit better when they let loose a bit more like on Haunted or parts of 73, but the detriment of lacking an organic core couldn’t be more noticeable.
And that’s a shame because, while Acceptance have good intentions – to galvanise their old pop-rock sound with some modern flavour – the execution feels considerably mismanaged. What’s worse is that the seeds of something good are clearly here, and actually manage to successfully blossom in patches, but overall it feels sidetracked by a desire to be current and cutting-edge rather than live up to a greater potential. It’s not a wasted effort by any means, but it is a telling one, and it says that Acceptance will need to acquire more substance to avoid another decade out of the limelight.
For fans of: The Killers, The 1975, Walk The Moon
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Colliding By Design’ by Acceptance is released on 24th February on Rise Records.