At this point, the agreed-upon standing with Saves The Day seems to be that they’re never going to top Through Being Cool or Stay What You Are – both of which remain pop-punk and emo classics – but they’ve delivered enough quality over the years regardless to give them a pass. Besides, it’s not as if every band continues a streak of quality over two decades in, and given that Saves The Day have never really dropped the ball in any significant fashion, they’ve earned a lot of good will over the years. The band seem to have realised that as well, and thus 9 is framed almost as a retrospective of their career to celebrate their come-up as a band, or as frontman Chris Conley puts it, “the story of Saves The Day”.
That explicit phraseology can throw up some red flags though, especially regarding whether “the story of Saves The Day” (or at least the one they’re willing to tell here) actually says enough to fill an entire album. There should be, especially with Conley being the sole original member giving the potential for this to be a deep dissection of band turmoil straight from the source. And to an extent, 9 does show that, but it’s overshadowed the vast majority of time by celebrations of being in a band and touring that only circle round and repeat themselves rather than saying anything all that meaningful. From a thematic standpoint, Saves The Day’s efforts feel shockingly barren here, particularly in tracks like Kerouac And Cassady, It’s Such A Beautiful World and Rendezvous, all of which extol the joys of touring that boil down to little more than listing places and sights that the band have seen, and a pretty barebones style of travelogue writing to highlight how great it all is. It’d be fine if there was some greater meat around it, but between this and constant returns to playing early shows and recording their first album, Saves The Day are very much treading water within what could easily be a more interesting narrative thread to follow, and when the only instance of drama or conflict in the main body of the album is Rose, which feels like it comes from another album entirely, it shows just how little the concept has been developed here.
Of course, there’s always the matter of the closing track 29, which, in in its 21-minute runtime, offers a deeper and more compelling analysis of life in a band than the rest of the album even verges on. It might seem a tad excessive at first given that Saves The Day aren’t exactly known for their progressive prowess, but digging into the content of life as a musician taking its toll on Conley mentally and leading to his isolation from his family and loved ones, before admitting his vulnerability and finding ways to reconcile, it honestly feels complete and incisive in a way that it really needed to be to prevent this album from being completely throwaway. Some of that poignancy may be undercut by how seldom its addressed elsewhere, but the sheer enormity of the track and that fact that it comes at such a pivotal position in the runtime gives it the sort of gravity and power it needs to pretty much singlehandedly save the album from having no impact whatsoever.
That’s true of the instrumentation to an extent to, harkening back to the distinctly classic style of emo that Saves The Day originally made their name with. It’s definitely good to see the more vibrant, roughly-produced style of tracks like Saves The Day and Suzuki that succeed pretty much exclusively by pressing all the right nostalgia buttons, and Kerouac And Cassady works as the quintessential pop-punk road-trip song that it’s designed as. But like with so much of the album, a lot of the instrumentation really does feel inessential in the way it’s so shamelessly grounded in the past, and while that works for what the album’s going for in concept, it feels like Saves The Day trying to replicate past glories in the context of material that’s simply lesser. At least with 29, the shifting tempos and multiple sections make for a more grandiose, fluid track that actually lives up to the scope set up for it; elsewhere, the combination of abject simplicity and sort runtimes feel undeniably expendable in a way that Saves The Day have rarely been.
All of that leaves 9 in an odd dead zone where it’s certainly not awful, but there’s precious little that warrants repeated listens, especially when Saves The Day have far surpassed multiple times before and, to be honest, the material they’ve gone for and the way it’s used loses its sheen after no time at all. Even for Saves The Day completionists, 9 doesn’t exactly hold much in the way of intrigue surrounding the band’s early days when it rightfully could, and it ends up feeling like the most unnecessary album this band have released to date. At least 29 is a curio that easily stands on its own, but having to wade through everything else here to get to it simply doesn’t feel worth it.
For fans of: Bayside, The Movielife, Midtown
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘9’ by Saves The Day is released on 26th October on Rude Records.