Cast your mind back to 2011 when You Me At Six released Sinners Never Sleep. Up until that point, they were bright-eyed, fresh-faced reps of UK pop-rock, packing in adulation and column inches with every move they made. But when Sinners Never Sleep came, that felt like a turning point. For them, its swerves into darker post-hardcore were fairly radical, even roping in guest spots from Oli Sykes and Winston McCall, to fully hammer home how this incarnation of You Me At Six was ready to grow up. And when that was all received just as well—maybe even better, for what many would deem their best era—the potential couldn’t feel more fevered.
So naturally, they’d spend the next few albums squandering every part of it. Everyone knows this part of the story—Cavalier Youth was toothless; Night People and VI were clunky; SUCKAPUNCH was even more so. What was once a band sitting pretty atop Britrock’s then-untouchable throne turned into the flighty chasers of not just radio-rock trends, but the safest, least inspired ones imaginable. By the back half of the 2010s, what You Me At Six were putting out wouldn’t have sounded out of place coming from the house band of any student union in the country. Even when their greatest strength has arguably always been their longevity, having far surpassed both their Britrock contemporaries and even the generation after, becoming part of the furniture rather than having an abundance of ideas isn’t the best way to go about that.
But again, that part of the tale of You Me At Six is common knowledge now, though there’s a reason that it’s relevant to start at Sinners Never Sleep when talking about Truth Decay. Put simply, it feels like You Me At Six are well aware of how lacking in grease their wheels have been, so they’ve thrown back to try and reclaim the same boost as before under the same circumstances. It wants to be a bit more edgy, verge back towards the heavier rock market that they once successfully had such a potent flicker within. That’s the intent, anyway. You can practically hear the gears cranking away to get Truth Decay there, but right now, You Me At Six’s model doesn’t feel equipped to make a leap that size anymore. Trying to crowbar that entire dynamic into a continuing wavelength of riff-rock pounding is far from economical, and Truth Decay really spends its time testing that.
At the same time though, it’s also likely You Me At Six’s most effective album in about a decade, for trying to hit some form of normalcy again. If not ‘normalcy’, then something that’s been proven to work in the past in arena anthems like Mixed Emotions (I Didn’t Know How To Tell You What I Was Going Through) and Traumatic Iconic (the latter even cutting out the middleman by just being Lived A Lie again, basically). The hook-work definitely feels sharper and more consistent that You Me At Six’s last handful of albums, that much is certain. Even on throwbacks going even further to their pop-rock days like After Love In The After Hours and A Smile To Make You Weak(er) At The Knees, they’re executed reasonably well for what they’re aiming for.
But God, is it also easy to pick holes in. That extends all the way down to, to a base level of intent that isn’t shedding allegations of You Me At Six’s recent trend-chasing any time soon. Yes, it’s more ‘authentic’ to where they’ve been before (for whatever that’s worth), but between some over-long and over-indulgent song titles and stylising, and open desires to be considered “the emo band” (at a time when that descriptor is bandied around more flippantly than ever), their finger on the mainstream pulse is still rather dictatorial in where they’re going. Playing the game is likely a necessity to get as big as they are, but it can be hard to parse out what genuine personality there is at play. It’s on Breakdown where it comes to light how spectacularly uncharismatic Josh Franceschi can be on this album. That’s the low point, definitely—a glazed-over moan that skirts right past some deliberate affectation of ennui into unpleasantness—but the same lack of tact really does carry over across Truth Decay, in favour of inelegant wallops of power.
But is that really fair to criticise all that much? On the most mainstream of mainstream rock albums, as this is, it’s kind of a given, and at least You Me At Six aren’t stooping as low as they outright could. They’ve never been inspired lyricists but a lot of this is better than it could be, in trying to pull out some positivity and self-actualisation when everything else in the world is spiralling uncontrollably. It’s more successful than it isn’t, at the end of the day. In that latter case, there’s the aforementioned Breakdown, or God Bless The ‘90s Kids that’s a mawkish ‘anthem for the outcasts’ template that everyone should be done with by now. They’re pleasingly outliers, though; more often than not, the focus on power actually does achieve its intended purpose. DEEP CUTS illustrates that well as an opener, and it hits its peak on No Future? Yeah Right, thanks to the terse electronic embellishments and a shockingly smooth integration from Rou Reynolds, in what effectively makes it feel like diet Enter Shikari.
That’s a moment on Truth Decay when the stars align and everything works in tandem as it should, which is ultimately a rarity, if we’re being truthful. Look no further than the production for the main offender there; Dan Austin returns behind the boards after his work on VI and SUCKAPUNCH, which comes as little surprise when it’s all so loud and turgid. Any bombast isn’t as compromised, thankfully, but the overload is still noticeable, as guitars and bass fight for space in what typically amounts to a blaring, quaking mass, and the vocals can get close to subsumption at the edges. That’s not even touching on how the programming can bloat things even further, resulting in the gallumphing thud of heartLESS, or Ultraviolence which starts with what borders on an impression of Nine Inch Nails’ Closer before lurching into further industrial clatter. At least the closer A Love Letter To Those Who Feel Lost can pull things back, featuring Cody Frost for some airier vocal diversity against an electro-pop backdrop that proves it can indeed be done tastefully.
At the end of the day though, that all seems about right for a new You Me At Six album, doesn’t it? Strictly in terms of releases, they’re well past their prime, and it’s a marvel that they can scramble together anything worthwhile at all, in what’s frequently come down to an exercise in staying afloat amid the safest, most bankable brand of rock’s mainstream. At least Truth Decay feels marginally more adventurous in that respect. It’s definitely better than the two or three that came before it, on the basis of glancing back at the spark that made You Me At Six flourish over a decade ago, and at least making the attempt to recapture it. They’re still tangled in the leaden blah-ness of riff-rock’s chains that prove rather difficult to shake off, but the steps taken are there and noteworthy. Even if its abundance of issues won’t subside through the power of good will alone, the faintest light at the end of tunnel is more than what was there previously.
For fans of: Royal Blood, Enter Shikari, Waterparks
‘Truth Decay’ by You Me At Six is released on 10th February on AWAL / Rise Records.
Words by Luke Nuttall