The fact that WSTR have released an album called Identity Crisis can’t be a coincidence. For as fairly well as Red, Green Or Inbetween did, a good deal of the caveats with the album centred around comparisons that were made to a slew of other pop-punk bands (comparisons that weren’t totally inaccurate, for the record). As such, this almost feels like WSTR getting their own back, poking at snarky journalists to come up with their quips of “Identity Crisis? I’ll say!” before they’ve even heard a note of the music inside.
Here’s the thing though – for the direction that WSTR have gone on this sophomore album, it’s not as if they aren’t openly inviting those comparisons once again. Sure, the reference point of Neck Deep is as obvious as its always been, but by cleaning up and abandoning so much of the scrappiness of their debut, they aren’t exactly making things easier for themselves with regards to properly standing out. That’s a very blanket statement though, and digging into the minutiae of Identity Crisis reveals that WSTR do indeed have something working for them here; it’s hard to pin down exactly what it is, but it makes itself known almost constantly for a genuinely entertaining listen.
It definitely takes a couple of listens to get there and fully pick up on what’s there, but it’s an almost cartoonish sense of exuberance that sets WSTR apart, albeit only slightly. The amount of polish will undoubtedly prove off-putting, but there’s a sharpness to tracks like Bad To The Bone and Fling in which the brightness and colour doesn’t push prominent instrumentation away; a track like Crisis may be armed to the teeth with weapons-grade hooks and pop potential, but that’s not at the expense of a guitar tone that still feels pleasantly chunky. It’s reminiscent of New Found Glory in the playful skip of Silly Me, and a general air of a band bringing some fun into a typically dour UK pop-punk scene. And of course, Sammy Clifford’s nasal vocals easily lend him to filling the Jordan Pundik role, but there’s a snottiness that’s definitely appreciated on The Latest, or the shapeshifting, borderline rap flows of Hide Everything Sharp.
On the flip side though, in traditional modern pop-punk style, the writing does take something of a hit, but credit to WSTR, they’re able to keep the lightheartedness running even when trawling through the genre’s set-in-stone subject matter. The fact that See You In Hell’s chorus is built around an interpolation of Cliff Richard’s Summer Holiday speaks volumes in this regard, but there’s a knowingness to Clifford that prevents Bad To The Bone or Riddle Me This from becoming too stale. Even with Silly Me and See You In Hell defaulting to the tired old well more conspicuously than they really should, WSTR know their way around a melody with enough ease to mitigate anything too underwhelming.
They’re not changing the world either, mind, but Identity Crisis is indicative of a band making strong enough strides to break away from the floods of pop-punk clones that WSTR have previously been associated with. There’s enough in the way of bounce and punch to make this band a formidable force within the genre, and in bringing little else other than sheer, energetic fun to the table, they’ll most definitely pull in the crowds they’ve been doggedly working to get for years now. There’s no guarantees, but time could see WSTR leading the UK pop-punk charge.
For fans of: New Found Glory, Seaway, State Champs
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Identity Crisis’ by WSTR is released on 31st August on Hopeless Records.