Well, doesn’t this feel like a familiar situation? Back in 2012 when All Time Low released Don’t Panic, it was viewed by many as a step back towards their fan-pleasing roots after the previous year’s Dirty Work, an album that leaned far heavier into the pop spectrum than they’d ever gone up to that point, and lost a bit of substance in doing so. But whereas Dirty Work has been viewed a bit more fondly in the following years, 2017’s Last Young Renegade doesn’t have that honour, as another big leap even further down the pop rabbit hole resulted in All Time Low’s blandest album to date that really hasn’t been viewed well historically. From the perspective of both sales and fan reception, it’s easy to call that album a failure, and so Wake Up, Sunshine feels as though it’s falling into an almost identical role to Don’t Panic, in which reputation repair is the order of the day by heading firmly back towards pop-rock. The stream of pre-release tracks has only made it seem like All Time Low are adamant on getting that message across, and even with a couple of prospective bumps that are hard not to take into account – they’re still on Fueled By Ramen, and the blackbear feature is questionable to say the least – the fact that All Time Low have proved in the past they know what they’re doing with an album to fill this role is a solid silver lining.
It certainly sounds like a Don’t Panic-style album, at least in terms of All Time Low’s swift turn back into pop-rock that might be almost entirely to mitigate any further damage, but it can’t be said it doesn’t work for them. There’s an almost classic feel to Wake Up, Sunshine in places that’s tailor-made to be comfortable, agreeable All Time Low fare, and it’s something that their years of experience in this exact field have prepared them for. There’s nothing that expands the boundaries of this band here, but doubling down on the aspects that have always worked for them and delivering them with an overflowing conviction is more than enough to shift any ennui to the side, and even if this is, in effect, their second ‘damage control’ album, the inherent likability that’s always been such an overriding factor in All Time Low makes it difficult to, at the very least, not crack a smile.
And plus, it’s not like this is a one-for-one remake or anything, instead slotting between the chunkier, more dynamic sound of Don’t Panic and the money’s-no-object production gloss of Future Hearts for a pretty happy medium. It’s also a good thing that All Time Low err more on the side of the former too, allowing the huge, classically-styled hooks of Melancholy Kaleidoscope or Clumsy hit at full power. It’s unequivocally a pop-rock album from a band who’ve learned what the best parts to take from straight-up pop are; the Britney Spears references on Sleeping In speak for themselves from a band with feet planted in both camps, but there’s a wistful poppiness and almost indie-rock sensibility courtesy of The Band CAMINO on Favorite Place, and Summer Daze (Seasons Pt. 2) has the old-school All Time Low gait but freshened up with hints of synths and electronics to taste. It’s a shame that tracks like Pretty Venom and Basement Noise lean a bit too far into squeaky-clean pop and feel way too thin and inconsequential as a result, as the majority of Wake Up, Sunshine sees All Time Low hitting an almost immovable balance pretty consistently. There’s definitely a high-budget production job that rings through on the thinned-out guitars and airy swell of Safe, but it makes it all the more satisfying when the massive, sunlit chorus breaks through, and when there is more of a down-the-middle rock focus placed on the likes of the title track or January Gloom (Seasons Pt. 1), the All Time Low charm and sparkle is there in abundance. It’s all the sound of a band who are much more sure of themselves than their last couple of outings might reveal, and though the results feel perennially locked into All Time Low’s wheelhouse, the inherent enjoyability that their sound offers presents that as more of a feature than a flaw.
What’s good about that, though, is that unlike on Last Young Renegade, Wake Up, Sunshine isn’t looking to reduce each element down to its least interesting rendition, and carries the familiarity with an energy that keeps the pace moving forward and the tone uplifting. There’s rarely a lyrical sentiment that hasn’t been touched before – Some Kind Of Disaster is pretty much a re-read of the semantic field of self-criticism that’s been under All Time Low’s belt for a good while now – but it’s not exactly objectionable when it’s sold with real sincerity. There’s a real, palpable sweetness to the inability to get over someone so special on Trouble Is or the lovestruck glisten that fits about as well with cheekiness on Sleeping In as it does with sweeping romanticism on Favorite Place. Even stabs at broad, exceedingly wholesome motivation on the title track and Safe that could easily come across as cloying have a nice bit of drive and playfulness to them that circumvents a lot of the fatigue that such a message has. There’s a bit less likable about the unhealthy relationships presented on Monsters and Pretty Venom that feel a bit too brooding for what this album is trying to do (though in the former case, it’s not actually the fault of blackbear), but they’re really only minor bumps on an album that, overall, has an abundance of quality to make up for it.
It’s honestly quite surprising how jam-packed Wake Up, Sunshine is; for an album that’s fifteen tracks long, there’s not much to criticise or deem as filler, and it’s arguably one of All Time Low’s more satisfying releases in a long time. At the same time though, the very safe and condensed direction they’re shooting for is easy to pick up on, and there’s nothing really about this album that’s looking to do much more than establish a firm baseline that’ll undoubtedly become less firm again as they head into their next album. Right now though, Wake Up, Sunshine is about as good as indications get of how strong even a back-to-basics All Time Low are, and even if it’s unlikely to stay that way, it’s the reason why it’s worth sticking with them despite the occasionally baffling creative decisions they make. Few bands can produce as reliably fun comfort food as All Time Low can, and sometimes, that’s as good as it gets.
For fans of: The Maine, Mayday Parade, Yellowcard
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Wake Up, Sunshine’ by All Time Low is released on 3rd April on Fueled By Ramen.