Now that Linkin Park have shown have shown one of the extremities that a rock band going pop can achieve, the question is, what’s next? If anything, it looks as though All Time Low will be the next band to try their hands at such a shift, and just like with Linkin Park, initial response has certainly been divisive. Lead single Dirty Laundry might have initially shocked with its pared-back guitars in favour of quiet, reserved electronics and an overall smoother presentation, but after the cleaner, poppier direction taken on 2015’s Future Hearts, it hardly seems like too much of a departure. Still, it was enough to ruffle a few feathers amongst the fanbase, with a lot subsequently riding on seventh album Last Young Renegade to actually deliver upon a more explicitly pop-leaning sound.
Really, the appeal that this album offers depends on your tolerance for the very rigid framework it falls over, that being the wistful coming-of-age period in the waning days of summer that aims square for the nostalgia receptors. It’s not a very adventurous concept, but then again, All Time Low don’t approach it very adventurously either. The broad, romantic archetypes all feel familiar – running through the streets in the heady rush of youth on the title track; reminiscing on old times to the backdrop of a silhouetted city on Good Times; holding on to those final moments of true freedom after everyone else has left on Afterglow – but there’s precious little real personality that differs from any number of staged, idyllic settings they may resemble. It’s a similar problem with what surrounds them with the misguided intent of fleshing out this particular story. Dirty laundry as a metaphor for emotional baggage is still as clumsy as ever on the titular track, while the imagery of substances on Drugs & Candy and space on Ground Control to represent rushes of attraction and feelings of loneliness respectively are done a bit more smoothly, but the word choices feel painfully entry-level. At least there are moments that demonstrate a bit more smartness, like the slightly sardonic, hazy-headed commentary on party culture on Life Of The Party, or the view of a relationship that clearly isn’t based on real emotion on Dark Side Of Your Room, but they’re really the only instances that see All Time Low venture away from their box of coming-of-age tropes into something more concretely identifiable.
It’s kind of ironic that the angular shift in instrumentation that so many were worrying about actually turns out better than the writing, even if the production doesn’t always do it justice. There’s not a single second of this album not covered in gloss, and that can mean that the band are sometimes denied a moment to shine, like on Good Times which feels as though it’s more reverb than instrumental at points. And though there are tracks that are certainly lacklustre, like the weedy Chainsmokers impression of Dirty Laundry and what is essentially a reprise on Nightmares, in terms of getting a balance between organic instrumentation and its more synthesised pop inclusions, All Time Low do pretty well here. The guitar lines on the title track and Dark Side Of Your Room might be thinner than usual, but they’re never fighting for room with the greater presence of synths, and the nocturnal swell and bluster of Life Of The Party gives drummer Rian Dawson a greater platform to really let loose and give the song some real driving momentum.
But even so, Last Young Renegade feels notably off. As an album it sounds fine – Alex Gaskarth has more clarity in his vocals than ever and puts that to good use on a handful of standout hooks – but it feels flimsy, taking an easy route in both sound and content to more pop-friendly material just like Linkin Park did. Make no mistake, there’s nothing on here that plumbs the same depths that One More Light did at its worst, but at the same time, there’s the feeling of thinness and inessentiality that runs rampant. All Time Low’s crowd-pleasing nature alone makes this far from a failure, but for as colourless and lacking in anything that leaves a mark as it is, Last Young Renegade doesn’t exactly feel like much of anything. It’s the most transitional album of All Time Low’s career, which is probably the most interesting and definable thing about it.
For fans of: Fall Out Boy, Twenty One Pilots, Marianas Trench
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Last Young Renegade’ by All Time Low is released on 2nd June on Fueled By Ramen.