Junior come across as the sort of band whose push has been a lot bigger than they’ve perhaps deserved. Up to now, their material has generally been as fine as this sort of chunkier pop-punk tends to be, but with all the emphasis that has hinged on frontman Mark Andrews’ other job as a WWE wrestler, it’s hard to avoid of cult of personality developing and eclipsing the more relevant factor in the situation. To be fair, it’s nowhere near as egregious as some of the undeserved furore around musical projects from bigger celebrities, but it falls into the same boat overall, especially when Junior have never really displayed anything beyond that of a mid-tier band who, without the connections they have, would desperately struggle to find their feet in any scene.
That alone can make an album like Beautiful Life feel even more disappointing, especially when there’s such a genuine earnestness to Junior’s approach that isn’t bogged down by any sort of pretension. But when that’s all stripped away and what Junior actually have to offer is brought to the fore, it’s shockingly little particularly for the context of modern pop-punk and alt-rock in which they clearly want to infiltrate. Maybe about five or ten years ago when this sort of thing had a footing, Beautiful Life would’ve caught on, but between a generally dated sound that in itself isn’t all that great, and the fact that it’s not bolstered by anything that could make it seem even marginally more attractive, there’s barely anything that lasts longer than a cursory look.
What’s worse is that it’s not impossible to find potential enjoyment here; Playing The Part and Dramatic effectively sound like the same song at points, but their big, bouncy pop-punk throws back to all the right places, and the healthy lope of a track like Hey Becka feels like the area where Junior hit their stride the most and channel their abilities into the most direct package. That’s worth highlighting because Beautiful Life seldom does that to a huge extent, and while the hooks and a pleasing meatiness to the guitars are there, the production can feel so unwieldy on a track like When The Tower Falls, and when that’s paired with stabs at perceived greater elegance like on the choral opener Girls And Boys or the sloshy piano-ballads of Baby Blue and the title track, it’s all horribly dragged down. There’s a lack of tightness that’s only exacerbated by Andrews’ vocals, which bear a brashness and heavy-handedness endemic of early-2010s Britrock that not only lacks a certain amount of tact in its own right, but can have a flatness that’s always been the least appealing factor of that style and thus highlights how dated this all can feel. It’s not like both pop-punk and Britrock don’t have their own intrinsic positives, but with Junior refusing to offer any sort of workable updates to a very milquetoast formula, it leads to an album that plods by with little payoff. When those moments do come, it’s in the slapdash synths laid into Don’t Know What I’d Do that feel totally at odds with how thudding and heavy the guitars are made to seem, or the dalliance into hardcore on P.Y.D that isn’t awful thanks to a competent vocal contribution from fellow wrestler Elijah, it’s a throwaway experiment whose impact is specifically consigned to its own sub-two-minute runtime.
As for the writing, that’s not even blessed with similar moments of relative inspiration. It’s clear that Junior’s heart is in the right place in their exploration of positivity and ways to make the world a better place, but pairing some barebones ideas with a sound that isn’t exactly the freshest on its own doesn’t lead to much headway being made. For pop-punk, it’s generally fine in capturing an upbeat sense of exuberance that’s always an easy sell, but Junior don’t get all the way there, and as such, there’s very little that’s all that fulfilling. It certainly doesn’t help when they have a penchant for dipping into mawkish overworking that struggles to achieve anything all that positive, and it’s not even like it’s all that memorable to go forward with either.
Overall, it puts Beautiful Life in possibly the worst position for Junior to be in on a debut album. What should’ve been their golden moment to put together a concise, consistent body of work to show what they’re really about feels turgid, lifeless and overridingly unremarkable. That’s even by the standard of modern pop-punk as well, as Junior lack so many cogent ideas that could make them stand out, but instead feel comfortable in ploughing a furrow disappointingly close between both overly safe and overly boring. And thus, there’s nothing here worth revisiting, with a few choice instances dwarfed by everything else that Junior have enormously botched.
For fans of: The Blackout, blink-182, The Bottom Line
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Beautiful Life’ by Junior is released on 2nd August.