For some time now, Boston Manor have been leagues above so many of the other pop-punk and emo bands in their field. Perhaps not on their earliest releases, but if Saudade sowed the seeds for something potentially great, Be Nothing saw them germinate and blossom, the sort of ragged, emotionally breathless album that felt darker and more genuine than what so much of their genre had to offer at the time. And that’s what’s undoubtedly been the biggest selling point of Boston Manor since – the ability to take a familiar emo framework and contort and mangle into something with far more edge and tangible, curdling anger.
Even so, no one could have predicted where Welcome To The Neighbourhood would go. Anything close to pop-punk is gone at this point and emo remains in passing traces only, and in their place stands the sort of dark, heavy left turn that comes from a dramatic reworking, both in ethos and execution. What’s more, it feels like all of that is a case of necessity above anything else; this is Boston Manor firing wider at the world around them than ever before, leaving them at their angriest and weariest to date, but also in the wake of the best music they’ve ever produced.
And a big factor of that is the realism that Welcome To The Neighbourhood is grounded in. A big, broad state-of-the-world address is all well and good, but with the commentary of this album revolving around the band’s hometown of Blackpool and the decay it’s seen since its status as a tourist haven in the ‘70s, the punches hit harder and the anger feels so much real. What’s even more surprising is how little they hold back; there’s a lot of mileage in the bleak, rain-soaked imagery of Flowers In Your Dustbin and Funeral Party already, but the band sink their fangs deep into this dying town, tackling a populace driven by apathy on England’s Dreaming, paranoia on Bad Machine, and on Hate You and Stick Up, an epidemic of violence for no reason other than there’s nothing else to do. All the while throughout, there’s not a hint of hope or colour as the town crumbles around them, though Boston Manor know all this and project it with the blood and grit left intact. It’s telling in this regard that the prelude to all of this is the title track, with a main refrain centred around the line “Welcome to the neighbourhood / If you could leave you would”.
But it’s not just the dedication to almost brutal levels of detail that makes Welcome To The Neighbourhood so great, but how that exact same thought process seeps down into the execution. Compared to Be Nothing’s more standard emo fare, this is a total reinvention moving in a totally different direction. Guitars are heavy and deliberate on the likes of Halo and Tunnel Vision, and with smatterings of terse electronics and a grimy, matt-black finish, there’s almost an industrial sensibility in how unrelenting it is. It sounds fantastic in all honesty, especially when hitting the slow, tense sweet spot of a track like England’s Dreaming to really emphasise how close and borderline uncomfortable it is. As for Henry Cox, he’s always been great at a very loose, confrontational delivery and on Funeral Party and If I Can’t Have It No One Can, nothing’s changed, but in his dejected drawl on England’s Dreaming and Bad Machine, the sense of utter, unfettered tiredness and frustration is completely palpable and feels so natural.
To put everything into perspective, if Boston Manor had already raised the bar before, everything on Welcome To The Neighbourhood has it rocketing into the stratosphere in the way that only a reworking of this calibre could. At this point it wouldn’t be out of the question to call Boston Manor a mainstream band, but compared to at least 95% of others, this is the sort of deep, dark and frighteningly detailed effort that would just be out of the question. It’s genuinely fantastic stuff from start to finish, another strength in this band’s already flourishing lineage and their timely transition to one of, if not the best band their scene has to offer.
For fans of: Trash Boat, Funeral For A Friend, Movements
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Welcome To The Neighbourhood’ by Boston Manor is released on 7th September on Pure Noise Records.