It’s a bit disheartening to see Real Friends’ reputation of pop-punk’s pack-leading sadboys prevail, especially when they’ve been making a conscious effort to break out of the rut they so heavily drove themselves into so early on. And yet, it looks like they’re forever to be dubbed the band who used to go on about sleepy eyes and bony knees, as a lukewarm reception to 2015’s The Home Inside My Head portrayed a band to whom many would refuse to believe would evolve in their approach, or break out of an earnest yet admittedly clichéd mould that had proven divisive from the start.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like that mindset is set to change either, even with new album Composure. That’s a shame too, as it’s clear that Real Friends have made more of an effort than ever to freshen things up, moving away from bloated, over-familiar climes of their last album and into something a lot tighter and poppier, without forgoing the heartfelt bent they’ve become known for.
And that can be a legitimate complaint when it comes to Composure, but more so the execution than the intent. That’s typically the case with Real Friends albums, and with vocalist Dan Lambton powering through the anguish of his mental health, it’s something that can be felt regardless. There’s clear frustration in his desires for someone to be there for him and just listen on Me First and Unconditional Love, and while his state of depression continues, there’s a sense of catharsis that comes from ridding himself of toxic people in his life to work on bettering himself on Get By. That’s all well and good, but it’s not the end of Real Friends’ bad habit of overwrought scene poetry to convey these feelings, and with a series of very twee, cloying lyrical choices on a track like Smiling On The Surface combined with Lambton’s boyish bleats, it can be an incredibly saccharine listen, especially with the new instrumental focus designed to magnify the album’s pop appeal.
In isolation though, it’s definitely good to see Real Friends attempting to make genuine progressions, and coming away from how beige The Home Inside My Head could feel, this is good place for them to be in. For one, they thankfully haven’t taken a sander to any sort of rougher gristle, and though the polish on Stand Steady and Ripcord is noticeable, the twinges of Midwestern emo that’s so readily defined their sound remains. It shows a handy level of control on Real Friends’ part when it comes to composition; the depth and inner exploration that’s always been there is much appreciated, but Composure feels more accessible overall, trimming down the fat to allow the main core to shine brighter.
And that’s why Composure works so well. Real Friends aren’t the most exciting band in the world – never have, never will be – but beneath the overweight lyricism that’s the next thing that definitely needs an overhaul, there’s a solid pop-punk band that really don’t deserve the amount of flak they get. Composure isn’t likely to change that anytime soon though, but at least for those who still have a vested interest in what Real Friends have to offer, they’re heading in a much more workable, enjoyable direction.
For fans of: Columbus, The Wonder Years, Seaway
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Composure’ by Real Friends is released on 13th July on Fearless Records.