21st Century Pop-punk is plagued by crippling self-imposed deficiencies. Defined by buoyant irreverence, bands continue to follow in Blink-182’s footsteps by using humour and braggadocio as a substitute for introspection. Playing with a defiantly upbeat palette of sounds an entire generation of acts seemingly missed the point by embracing the bratty humour of Blink and Green Day and not the longing and despond that colours both band’s best work. All Time Low seemed destined to flounder between the genre’s tiresome extremes (ironic winks and bland anthemia) as 2011’s Dirty Work showed as much regression as progression.
Despite the misgivings, the Baltimore starlets shouldn’t be written off just yet. The industrious outfit’s fifth album in seven years is something off a breakthrough. Moving closer to the despairing angst of Fall Out Boy and Paramore, and away from parody pop and second hand sentiment, Don’t Panic hints at a band who truly understand the teenage condition. “The Reckless And The Brave” is the kind of banner waving anthem that both Green Day and My Chemical Romance usually specialize in. In the best traditions of foolhardy romanticism the band take the petty struggles of the suburban teen and turn them into live or die cause. “Backstreet Serenade” is impetuous and ejaculatory as Alex Gaskarth laments sleeping alone (or seeming sitting still for more than a second) as he pleads “God I’m Sick Of Sleeping Alone”.
Distances and location are the dominant themes on an album that constant yearns for a fresh start and a warm body. All Time Low struggle for original thought as they mock both the boredom of suburbia and the middle class intellectual life style. The sentiments inevitably grate, but they’re not designed for broad-minded adults, they’re supposed to mean everything to frustrated adolescents who think that everything sucks and no one gets it but them. As such Don’t Panic means everything and nothing – “For Baltimore” should make older eyes roll and young hearts flutter.
ATL are not immune to misteps. “To Live And Let Go” is a typical post-hardcore take on maturity; the guitars get louder, the vocals more earthy, and the lines more laughably laboured. Don’t Panic thrives when it lives in the moment (“Outlines”) and embraces the classic American conceit that the adolescent love and life is of paramount importance. The pace is relentless and melodies are sharp, even if the hooks occasionally leave something to be desired. Don’t Panic is spikey and knowing, but it’s not irreverent, and is mercifully devoid of irony – a strident step in the right direction. David Hayter