It’s easy to feel sorry for ROAM. Coming around at a time when UK pop-punk had hit an unassailable peak was bad enough, but they did it in perhaps the worst possible way – by having a lacklustre, uninspiring debut when they really couldn’t afford to. And even though Backbone was the catalyst to get the ball rolling, nabbing them tours and festival sets across Europe and even a stint on Warped Tour, the feeling that ROAM should’ve been better was always a niggling one; the idea of liking ROAM was a more attractive prospect than actually doing it.
But at the same time, Backbone was still a debut, collecting rough, naïve ideas together that would undoubtedly be refined over time. Case in point – Great Heights & Nosedives, ROAM’s sophomore full-length that has them tightening and refining what its predecessor brought to the table, and seeing the band coming on by leaps and bounds. It’s always immensely satisfying to see a band living up to even the slightest bit of potential they’ve shown in the past, and ROAM have done exactly that here. They’re still not the finished article just yet, but Great Heights & Nosedives is much closer than they were this time last year.
A lot of that comes from the benefit of ROAM moving into different avenues of pop-punk, removing the pretensions towards hardcore that was easily their least likable feature (alongside numerous other bands) and replacing them with the thicker, brighter tones of the genre’s mid-2000s heyday. That’s not to say that ROAM have gone completely toothless here, though; the crunchier guitar tone that’s virtually omnipresent and very welcome has a track like Open Water surging with real purpose, and Left For Dead picks up that pace even further for the sort of caffeinated pop-punk jam that keeps those grittier intentions intact, but wrapped in a package that’s easier to swallow. Pretty much across the board, Great Heights & Nosedives learns from the mistakes of its predecessor, and while a cheeky callback or two might slip through the cracks – Curtain Call teases a Tracks-style acoustic sore thumb but thankfully reverts back to a more fleshed-out sound – this is the most solid ROAM have ever felt, even if moments like The Rich Life Of A Poor Man and Playing Fiction see them embracing their poppiest impulses.
Granted, that also comes with the caveat that ROAM still struggle to stretch this over an entire album, and when it comes to the notable dip in the final act, it shows. Curtain Call comes across as a weaker State Champs ballad, While The World Keeps Spinning feels like a rehash of previous ideas, and Home is a particularly underwhelming note to see the album off on, shooting for a grand finale with a sweeping chorus and gang chants, and ending up as a pretty flaccid filler track. It’s encouraging to see that ROAM’s big ideas remain intact though, even if they can’t back them up just yet with real evidence.
They’re definitely getting there though; there’s clear growth all across this album, and even though nothing really pushes the boundaries of what constitutes a modern pop-punk in terms of instrumentation or lyrics, ROAM currently sound a lot more comfortable. The vocal interplay between Alex Costello and Alex Adam has tightened up considerably on a track like Alive, and there’s still charm and a distinctive identity that comes in the retention of their natural British accents, which is definitely a nice touch when the vast majority of pop-punk vocalists are currently striving to sound like exact facsimiles of each other.
And that’s probably the best thing about ROAM, that they’re up for pushing themselves beyond the bare minimum, and even if it doesn’t always materialise, the intent is still there. That could really be the tag line for Great Heights & Nosedives, an album that is still deeply entrenched in everything that pop-punk has become over the last few years, but represents a progression for the band all the same, becoming a more manageable, cohesive unit, and reaping the benefits of it. There’s still a way to go yet before they achieve the Neck Deep benchmark that they’re so clearly gunning for, but even now, they’re closer than anyone reasonably thought they would be.
For fans of: Neck Deep, New Found Glory, Seaway
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Great Heights & Nosedives’ by ROAM is released on 13th October on Hopeless Records.