In the current climate of pop-rock where flightiness and fragmentation seems to be running rampant, The Maine are virtually untouchable. They may have started as another faceless pop-rock band when that was a relative norm, but they’ve evolved so much since then, picking up an intelligence and a colour that’s allowed them to produce some genuinely fantastic music. American Candy is still arguably their pinnacle for making super-clean power-pop viable at carrying weight at a time when it seemed anything but, but 2017’s Lovely Little Lonely rarely slouched either, drawing on a brand of pop-rock that’s more earthy and rustic that they’ve been rather impressive at making their own. And yet, as seems to be cynically customary whenever such a winning streak is highlighted, The Maine can’t be riding high forever, and when lead single Numb Without You was more average than a lot of their material tends to be (albeit praised unwaveringly by the stans regardless), it could easily be an early indication that You Are OK is where the wheels are beginning to fall off.
Then again, that might be a rather naive and facetious statement to make. After all, The Maine are light years away from the serviceable-yet-generic power-pop of a decade ago, with a far more malleable and colourful musical repertoire that’s served them so incredibly well. Thus, it’s no surprise that You Are OK once again follows suit, but in a more personal, emotive work that thrusts their pop-rock into yet another direction with results as excellent as ever. It’s the latest of many examples of how far The Maine have come in such a relatively short time, finding numerous footholds that continue to feel natural and inspired with each effort, and continuing to deliver material that positively ripples with personality, electricity and genuine excellence.
It’s what ultimately makes this album feel like The Maine’s equivalent of Panic! At The Disco’s Pretty. Odd., a great album for which the real extent of its greatness comes when considering it as a full body of work. That’s not to say that You Are OK lacks the strong individual moments that have previously characterised The Maine’s work – in another time, the glistening pop-rock anthemia of My Best Habit, I Feel It All Over and Heaven, We’re Already Here could’ve been truly monstrous hits – but on the whole, there’s a core of creative mojo that’s an interesting fit for this band especially, seemingly splitting the difference between their last two albums to keep that polish on the side of bigger, more bombastic rock anthems. On paper, that doesn’t sound like anything new, but the precise synths of Tears Won’t Cry and the foggy alt-pop of Broken Parts show a sonic inbreeding that The Maine have rarely partaken in. And yet, for the vision of this album, it yields the best results; tracks like Numb Without You and Forevermore do feel noticeably lower in isolation, but in the context of an album introducing strings and synths to ‘90s power-pop melodies and effectively seeing what happens, they feel just as relevant and necessary on the whole. It’s perhaps more adventurous and playful than The Maine have ever been, but still accessible to a fault, and still doing so without having to rely on obnoxious gimmickry to force it in. Especially in a modern pop-rock scene that’s only become more and more guilty of those practices over time, an album like You Are OK feels like a refreshingly simple but oh-so-effective palate cleanser.
That’s hardly a surprise though; as effectively as The Maine have assimilated into modern pop-rock, they’ve typically operated on their own terms, and even in sticking to the sounds and styles that are keeping the biggest players on top, they’re doing it more loosely and in a way that lets their own character shine through. It’s arguably the main reason that the writing connects as well as it does, as what could’ve been another exploration of mental health that struggles to break out of its own limited loop has a genuineness that’s incredibly endearing, particularly since this is almost exclusively framed as a redemption arc. My Best Habit is possibly the only outlier as John O’Callaghan remains shrouded in the self-doubt and pessimism that covers him, but overall, You Are OK’s positivity radiates from the virtues of those good things in his life, even if, like on I Feel It All Over and Tears Won’t Cry, it’s just one night with that one person. And upon the realisation that the chance to heal is always there on Broken Parts and symbolically burying his old self to move on to the next stage in life on the epic closer Flowers On The Grave, the colour and life this album shows really does culminate into something wonderful. It’s not exactly subversive, but the natural charisma and likable nature of The Maine gives this a considerable head start, and when everything comes together like it does, the results really are something special.
It’s not something that could be said about The Maine a decade ago, but You Are OK represents the latest leap forward for a band who have undergone potentially the most convincing and well-defined maturation in music. It’s considered and thoughtful without losing its playfulness, and can still dish out ample hits while staying true to its own vision and remaining so firmly grounded. When considering the scene as a whole, that’s a rarity, and it’s something that The Maine can easily pull off, but they’re not being complacent. Rather, they’re continue to push themselves and grow into a truly formidable pop-rock machine, and You Are OK is testament to just how much they’ve done and how much of it has blossomed into something great. This is pop-rock done so right, and that’s more than worthy of the praise this album gets.
For fans of: Yellowcard, Lydia, Deaf Havana
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘You Are OK’ by The Maine is released on 29th March on 8123 Records.