Ah, Story Of The Year—one of those bands you probably listened to for a bit when you were about 13, and that makes them objectively good for the rest of time. We all have ‘em, we all love ‘em, but there comes a time when we need to face facts and acknowledge how powerful nostalgia actually is, and how no one is really immune to it. For Story Of The Year, that’s basically the only thing keeping them alive.
It can also open up a discussion about how it’s okay to enjoy ‘bad’ music, but that might be too weighty and involved for the topic at hand here. We’re talking about Story Of The Year, after all, a band for whom post-hardcore commercialisation and the wellspring of 2000s emo ease are joined at the hip, and have allowed them to bankroll a career on throwback cred all the way up to the present. There’s always been a blatantness to their endgame, but also something kind of precious about a band so dogged to soundtracking the exact same bout of high-school melodrama that they did in 2003.
So here’s Tear Me To Pieces, an album that’s canny enough to fit a reframe to commemorate their debut Page Avenue’s 20th anniversary (nearly the same artwork and everything…), but survives independently as one of the band’s more violent nostalgia-juicers just as well. Which, of course, means it’s an album of grown men latching to the same emo beats and melodrama that coloured their work half a lifetime ago. We’ve been down this road before and it never ends up any better, and it’s certainly not going to be Story Of The Year who amend that trend, is it?
If anything, it’s precisely the outcome you’d expect from them, right down to how deeply they drill into the annals of MySpace poetry to land on some uncut, authentic emo prostrating. There’s all the references to knives and burning and broken bones, apropos to the angst and pain the hypothetical listener feels when…I dunno, his girlfriend doesn’t text him back or something? All joking aside, Tear Me To Pieces does a really poor job of believable emotional maturity when it’s this overwrought. It’s the obviously casualty of leaning on such an inherently unstable approach, and doing so without adding anything to make it stable. Songs like Dead And Gone and Sorry About Me could legitimately read like send-ups of this kind of songwriting, if they weren’t played so stone-faced and convinced of their own gravity.
And it’s not an issue with Story Of The Year taking their work seriously either; Dan Marsala really gives it a lot vocally, and that’s certainly appreciated. Rather, it’s the fact that there’s no inherent weight to these songs, and how almost all of them feel designed to plug into miscellaneous teen-drama situations. It feels like an act, to put it bluntly, as Story Of The Year plug away with the bones of ideas they probably should’ve moved beyond by now when they don’t sound believable to them. Not only does 2005 reference their biggest song in such an obviously purposeful way, but its recollections of being young and running wild are so rote and boilerplate, and barely different to anyone else’s with this kind of song.
To really gauge where things don’t work, you only have to compare this to the recent output from Silverstein. They’re from roughly the same era as Story Of The Year, and operated in a lot of the same circles, but they’ve demonstrably grown in their work and used it to branch out and explore new avenues. Story Of The Year, meanwhile, have regressed almost entirely, except in a sound that might be more contemporary but still isn’t impressing. Imagine the sharper pop-rock leanings of The Used’s later work, interspersed with inelegant low-end ‘heaviness’ à la latter-day Papa Roach, and finish it with the crust of slick pop production that renders texture a foreign concept.
Now, to Story Of The Year’s credit, they can get something from this. Divorced from everything else, there are moments on Tear Me To Pieces that are catchy as sin and run far with it. The title track is the first obvious example with the sort of pile-driving hook that’s an undeniable boon as an opener; similarly, Glow and Ride hit on big, fizzy pop-punk energy full of sparkle and life, and while there’s not an instance of human error for miles in any of them, they fit what they’re trying to do. Outside of its more obviously saccharine touches like on Real Life or 2005—or how Sorry About Me hits the face-screwing convergence of self-flagellating and mercilessly cloying—the sound of this album is far from its biggest problem. War and Knives Out might be compressed, but at least they’re propulsive and a bit more raucous, and that’s a baseline that’s…fine for Story Of The Year.
Note the generally begrudging tone to say much kind about Tear Me To Pieces, because it really doesn’t make it easy. At best, it slots into the band’s poppier side well; at worst, it’s inoffensive scene fare that this band’s catalogue doesn’t need any more of. Even under any temptation to be charitable, Story Of The Year’s footprint over the years has been so fleeting and inconsistent that this kind of feels like the right spot for them to be at—chasing the dollar explicitly at the hands of past glories and barely even pretending otherwise. But for the people perpetually locked into their emo phase who won’t see that as a problem (or who won’t even think to come to that conclusion), that’s who Story Of The Year are targeting, and that’s who’ll get the most from this album. More power to them, then; just don’t complain too much when a shot of raw nostalgia is difficult to down without at least some form of mixer.
For fans of: The Used, Hawthorne Heights, newer Papa Roach
‘Tear Me To Pieces’ by Story Of The Year is released on 10th March on Sharptone Records.
Words by Luke Nuttall