June 14, 2011 - Fueled By Ramen
The Swellers’ last album, 2009’s Ups And Downsizing, might have been one small step away from the skate-punk that dominated the Michigan quartet’s early releases, but the band’s second effort for Fueled By Ramen is one giant leap toward a fully realized rock sound. That’s not to say the group have gone soft or that Good For Me is lacking in the energy department (quite the opposite), but the power simply comes from a different place. Instead of roaring guitar-harmonic solos or Jonathan Diener’s powerful and precise double-time drumming acting as the backbone, the band rely on muscular guitars and meaty hooks to drive their points home.
There’s nary a blistering punk beat on Good For Me, save for the verses of “Inside My Head” and a brief appearance on first single “The Best I Ever Had,” and frankly that’s just fine. The Swellers’ past successes were never tied to a particular gimmick or genre; the band found a place on tours alongside the likes of Motion City Soundtrack, Less Than Jake and Paramore because they simply wrote great songs. And, for the most part, that’s still the case. The band proudly wear their influences on their collective sleeve throughout Good For Me’s 35 minutes, dealing in buoyant, Descendents-esque pop-punk (“Parkview”) and sludgy, stomping midtempo rock a la Weezer’s Pinkerton (“Warming Up,” far and away the disc’s best track). “Runaways” and “The Best I Ever Had” recall the effortless, bouncy pop-rock of the Ataris ca. So Long Astoria, while “The Damage” and “Nothing More To Me” are cut from the same modern-rock cloth on which Foo Fighters built their empire. Really, the only missteps are “On The Line”—a fuzzed-out rocker reminiscent of Ups And Downsizing’s “Feet First”—and the summery, acoustic-tinged “Better Things,” both of which ultimately come up a bit limp in spite of two of the album’s stronger choruses.
Lyrically frontman Nick Diener employs themes of youth and nostalgia, topics that only briefly made an appearance on Downsizing (think “Watch It Go”). Whereas that album detailed the Diener brothers’ lives in their recession-battered Michigan hometown and the struggles to survive in blue-collar America, Good For Me is a bit more universal. “The Best I Ever Had” details middle-school summer vacations, must-hear FM radio and anxious trips to the record store for discs like Pinkerton before taking a melancholy turn over a lost love; “Parkview” deals with the veritable shellshock of post-tour life; and “Prime Meridian,” a glass-half-full tale of long-distance relationships, is home to the album’s best line: “I’ll turn all my clocks back/I know it doesn’t work like that, but it’s good enough for me.”
In retrospect, whatever pock marks one might find are probably more a measure of how consistently extraordinary Ups And Downsizing really was instead of an indictment on Good For Me. Regardless, the album should keep the Swellers on the fast track to a career that mimics those of their biggest influences.