July 07, 2009 - Hopeless
2008 was a big year for All Time Low. Between landing the cover of this magazine twice, headlining two sold-out tours and getting a whole lot of love from MTV, there wasn’t much downtime for the band--frontman Alex Gaskarth, guitarist/court jester Jack Barakat, bassist Zack Merrick and drummer Rian Dawson--before recording the follow-up to 2007’s So Wrong, It’s Right. So it shouldn’t come as that much of a surprise that ATL employed co-writers on Nothing Personal. What is surprising is all four of the album’s producers--Butch Walker, Matt Squire, David Bendeth and the team of S*A*M & Sluggo-have co-writing credits on every song they produced. In effect, nothing on this album was written strictly by All Time Low. So how did this affect the band’s youthful exuberance?
First things first: For a band who claim Blink-182 as their primary influence, it’s pretty damn hard to hear it on Nothing Personal. Virtually all of the album’s 12 tracks draw direct influence from one of three bands: Jimmy Eat World (“Walls”), New Found Glory (“Break Your Little Heart”) and-in its more serene, mature moments-Motion City Soundtrack (“Therapy”). The material Walker produced/co-wrote, “Damned If I Do Ya (Damned If I Don’t)” and “Sick Little Games,” are two of the best tracks, both huge pop-rock songs set at a medium tempo that draw attention to Gaskarth’s deliberately paced, consistently solid vocals. This is new territory for the brash, young band, and they pull it off better than haters would want to believe.
On the flipside, S*A*M & Sluggo’s material gets a failing grade. “Hello, Brooklyn” is a complete waste of three-and-a-half minutes, as Gaskarth resorts to yelling out random cities in what seems like an effort to kill time. “Lost In Stereo” has ultra-generic lyrics and a terrible chord progression in its chorus reminiscent of the angstier songs in Jimmy Eat World’s post-Clarity catalog. The major-key verses save the track, making it tolerable.
In between those highs and lows is a lot of middle ground. “Weightless” is an insta-classic, with its memorable “Maybe it’s not my weekend/But this could be my year” hook. The sing-songy “Stella,” about being drunk on Stella Artois, is so saccharine it might break the crown off a tooth. The back-to-back “Keep The Change, You Filthy Animal” and “A Party Song (The Walk Of Shame)” channel vintage New Found Glory-styled pop-hardcore but end up slightly forgettable. It’s the song preceding that pair, however, that shows ATL have the potential to be more than a flash in the pan. “Too Much” is a remarkable progression for the quartet: a slow, electronic-tinged number showcasing Gaskarth’s Justin Pierre-esque timbre--unfortunately, as with the entire album, his vocals are Auto-Tuned and vocoder-ed far beyond what they should. (Note to all future producers: This kid can actually sing--let him, already!)
All Time Low definitely possess the spark of creativity that will allow them to develop a real career unlike, say, Cute Is What We Aim For. Nothing Personal isn’t their magnum opus, but it’s a step closer than they were before.
Jimmy Eat World’s Chase This Light
Motion City Soundtrack’s Commit This To Memory
New Found Glory’s New Found Glory