Is it 2023 or 2009 again? Between Las Vegas’ When We Were Young Festival and to a lesser extent Slam Dunk on this side of the pond, it seems like every pop-rock band from our teenage years has decided to dust off their instruments and return in one way or another, whether it be anniversary-celebrating legacy shows or completely new material. Boys Like Girls fall into the class of pop-rock band with a handful of bona fide classic anthems, but not necessarily a front-to-back perfect album generally thought of as a hall-of-famer. It’s definitely not down to a lack of cohesion in their records (their self-titled debut particularly), a trait carried through with Sunday At Foxwoods, their first new album in eleven (!) years.
Pop songwriting and guitars still act as a base for the songs on this record, but now there’s an added ‘80s synth flavour that’s en vogue enough to allow their comeback to coast past the initial fan excitement. It’s a direction that really fits with Boys Like Girls’ image, adding a little bit extra fun and atmosphere to their traditional instrumentation. Songs like Language and New Love shine, feeling warm and immersive, the richness coloured in with peppy lead guitar lines. The more traditional Boys Like Girls format is still very much alive in The Outside and Brooklyn State Of Mind‘s soaring guitars and driving drums hitting some of the most autobiographical lyrics on the record home.
While the band hit the mark on some tracks, others feel like they could’ve benefitted from some more time under the microscope before being put out there. Take lead single Blood And Sugar for example, which focuses on the electronic side of things and has a few instances where the slightly irritating vocal samples and are fighting with blaring guitars and drums for airtime, sounding more garish than was probably intended. There are two instances of intense, drum ‘n’ bass-esque percussion on the record with neither really working. One is the title track intro which starts everything off with an eyebrow raise, the other Story Of A Lifetime which immediately drags you from the afterglow of the dreamy Hourglass, the affected guitar that accompanies it a far too full-on choice. Physical goes from a serviceable pop-rock tune to a total mess in its final minute with not one, but two key changes, both hitting after where the natural apex of the track should’ve been. We’ve just mentioned Hourglass, a song that would act as the token forgettable, too-chilled track on other ‘80s-influenced records, but it sticks out as a highlight on Sunday At Foxwoods for precisely that. It’s the one electronic-led track on here where Boys Like Girls show restraint instead of throwing every idea at the wall, and the result is something much more tasteful than anything else they’ve ever done.
Swinging and not quite hitting the target is always at least admirable in songwriting, but the major point where Sunday At Foxwoods suffers is an area where Boys Like Girls just seemingly aren’t up to snuff—lyricism. It’s not that they’re not capable of writing well—take the gorgeous Brooklyn State Of Mind which tells the story of Martin Johnson’s ambition and following his dreams vividly and with an infectious optimism. But all too often they go for the easy (read: lazy) option with their words, and having a number of such instances on one record makes it super noticeable. Language is incredibly catchy, maybe one of the best songs on the record, but that’s down to the aforementioned rich, energetic production and Johnson’s vocal flourishes rather than its incredibly simple “na-na-na” chorus.
New Love suffers similarly; it could be one of the best ‘80s bangers on here with its lush synths, but its uber-simple rhymes in its chorus are too pedestrian not to notice. Even The Outside, which is clearly gunning for The Great Escape levels of vigour, reels off the most clichéd checklist of loser kid emotions and pop-punk insignia, its going-through-the-motions vocal performance again fireman-lifted by its instrumental. Side note: it’s interesting that the ‘Outsiders Version’ remix featuring pals The Ready Set, 3OH!3, State Champs and The Summer Set isn’t the one on the record, the other bands’ presence and subtle lyric changes about life on the road giving more weight to the song’s meaning (3OH!3’s bridge where they’re their usual selves aside).
One’s personal enjoyment of Sunday At Foxwoods depends entirely on two things—what exactly they can put aside in their music listening, and how much prior investment they had in Boys Like Girls. Many of the songs on this record are sugar rushes that will sate lovers of all things pop, but anyone diving any further beneath the surface will spot missed opportunities often, even though the new ‘80s direction the band have opted to take is really very well done and absolutely a good move for them. Fans of Boys Like Girls will love hearing Martin Johnson’s charm take a new form too, but will they prefer to hear these songs over The Great Escape or Love Drunk at any future tours. Unless they age particularly well over the next few years, almost certainly not.
For fans of: Coin, flor, Bad Suns
‘Sunday At Foxwoods’ by Boys Like Girls is out now on Fearless Records.
Words by Georgia Jackson