One thing that’s rarely discussed in the scene, particularly in pop-punk, is how performers ageing would affect their music, mostly because so many bands think that adopting a perennially young mindset will retain the spark of their peak. And most of the time, it really doesn’t work; just look at the watering down of blink-182, or the destruction and botched rebuilding of Fall Out Boy. It is possible to embrace one’s age without turning into a bitter, old codger, and on his latest album under the Reggie And The Full Effect moniker, James Dewees seems to understand that. And even with this project being the colourful, more lighthearted counterpart to his work as keyboardist of The Get Up Kids, right from the off, 41 looks as though it’s retaining that as well as the knowledge of how to age gracefully; just look at that artwork, having Dewees’ age as blatant as it can be, and doing so in a parody of Adele’s 21.
Don’t expect too much different though, as 41 is as brash and garish as people have come to expect from a Reggie And The Full Effect album, only this time in a more grounded, bittersweet light. That’s the first point to take into account with this album’s multifaceted projection of age, in that it juxtaposes a deeper lyrical focus with a bright, diverse selection of instrumental canvas that serve almost as the final tether holding onto that missing youth. It’s impressively diverse too, taking a prominent background of pop-punk and alt-rock, contorting it to sometimes unrecognisable extents and painting it with plenty of electronics for good measure. A lot of the time it works well too, like the New Years Day which piles on hollow, smoldering guitars and an iridescent synth line for an excellent mid-album power-ballad, or the punchy, more conventional electro-pop-punk of Il Pesce Svedese and Maggie. Even when Dewees’ efforts feel a bit out of their depth, like the overstuffed gothic swell of And Next With Feeling, or the fact that the sharper synth lines can occasionally be tart to the point of intolerable, they’re still able to remain grounded and ultimately serve a purpose in the body of work.
Then again, 41 does have its moments where it ultimately loses its own intention, and ends up with Dewees circling back into instrumental quirkiness without any significant lyrical ballast. To his credit, these are few and far between, but the extent to which they’re taken (and the fact that the need for comedy tracks was felt in the first place) leaves a potentially convincing narrative a little more uncertain, whether that’s the cheapened synthpop of Channing Tatum Space Rollerblading Montage Music, or the deliberately clunky fusion of metal with stunted trap vocal styles on Trap(ing) Music. They’re obviously here to lighten the mood and are harmless enough in that regard, but for an album that is looking to solidify itself into an overall more mature style, going in this direction ultimately feels counterintuitive.
And obviously this would be more of a complaint without these lyrics, which do feel like the pivot that much of this album’s success orbit around. What it reveals itself as appears to be essentially a collection of midlife crises, fueled by Dewees’ explosive, expressive delivery that conveys the waves of emotion that so much of this material relies on. And considering the tension and desperation on tracks like Alone Again and The Horrible Year, and the sense of scope and drama that each commands, the material feels all the more tangible, and ties the album together so that it’s sturdier than it really has any right to be.
It’s a great example of how this type of music doesn’t need to bend over backwards to mitigate the passage of time; Dewees might be holding on to a poppier core, but given how unpredictable it is, 41‘s efforts rarely feel forced. Even with the weak spots that severely break the immersion at points, this is definitely a solid listen, not exactly streamlined or bland, but still accessible enough for those who mightn’t be accustomed to harsh sonic shifts that, for the record, this album gives much more leeway to. Even while the edges are tattered, 41 has a good heart beating in it, and that’s something that rarely ceases to shine through.
For fans of: Saves The Day, Head Automatica, Midtown
Words by Luke Nuttall
’41’ by Reggie And The Full Effect is released on 23rd February on Pure Noise Records.