The battle lines have been drawn. There’s no fence sitting, no neutrality. It’s time to pick your side.
In the far corner, we have the All Time Low naysayers, clutching their vinyl copies of The Party Scene, those critics of the pop rock quartet who swear by the band’s guitar-heavy, emotional pop punk-driven back catalog. The side that consists of legions of fans who were disappointed by the mainstream appeal of Nothing Personal and would testify under oath, so help them God, that All Time Low has (gasp!) sold out for a fistful of dollars and major label pipe dreams.
And, ladies and gentlemen, focus your attention on the opposite corner of the ring, where we have the loyal fans, who have kept up with the rolling changes of the band and followed their skyrocketing musical growth, from the halcyon early days of under-produced diamonds in the rough that fit in nicely with the pop-punk heyday of their time to pristinely cut gems that wouldn’t sound out of place on any of Ryan Seacrest’s radio shows. So what if All Time Low has changed? Change, for lack of a better word, is good. Bands can’t rewrite the same songs time and again and expect to be praised for it.
So which audience does All Time Low’s latest effort, Dirty Work, cater to? Anticlimactically enough, the album walks a fine, fine line between a Top 40 rock record with massive appeal for the tween crowd and an album that even the most die-hard pop-punk aficionados wouldn’t be ashamed to pop in their stereo on a clear-skied, sun-drenched summer day.
“Do You Want Me (Dead?)” is a perfect example of the album’s status somewhere in between. Alex Gaskarth’s voice is in great form, belting out an enormous chorus mellowed out by verses that could come from a Hanson album. The production value is top-notch, balancing some nifty echoing harmonies with blistering drumbeats and even a guitar solo. It’s a radio-friendly anthem that deserves to be sung out loud.
“I Feel Like Dancin'” has already polarized the band’s fans to the point of spawning angsty discussion board posts, but all in all, it’s a harmless, jokey song about the party scene that takes a chorus straight from the Def Leppard school of songwriting. The intersection of old-school 80’s rock and 3OH!3-worthy lyrics in the verses is sure to bring both sides up in arms.
All Time Low suffers from a bout of identity crisis on “Forget About It,” a track that has some big hooks and some cleverly used synths but doesn’t really know what it wants to be. Its best moments wouldn’t sound out of place on Nothing Personal, but a spoken word interlude drags the song into unforgivably cheesy Bowling For Soup territory.
That is not to say that All Time Low can’t write a great pop hook. “Guts” is emotional on a heart-wrenchingly visceral level, and “Time Bomb” is everything a lead single should be: a bona-fide toe-tapper with an explosive sing-along chorus that’s just as explosive as the title suggests. The pristine production, along with the punchy raw energy, is carried over into the ultimate beach party jam of 2011 (so far), “Just the Way I’m Not.”
The rest of Dirty Work, depending on what camp you associate yourself with, keeps itself from being too serious, save for the darkly tinged fervor of “Return the Favor,” the lovelorn acoustic ditty “A Daydream Away,” and the orchestral soundscape of “No Idea.” It’s an album that wants nothing more than to make itself comfortable in the stereo of your car when your windows are rolled down and you’re only three exits away from the nearest beach.
So, has All Time Low sold out? Maybe. But who can complain when they have developed such a keen ear for pop hooks and gargantuan choruses? Instead of pigeonholing themselves into a genre that’s already cramping for a little bit of elbow room, the boys of All Time Low have spread out their legs in the driver’s seat on Dirty Work, a not too serious forty-minute fling that arrives just in time for summer.