There’s something strange about anticipation. It adds a certain perspective to things that has nothing to do with the actual content of whatever was being anticipated. When there are high expectations for something, they will either be met, exceeded, or unfulfilled. With too much anticipation, it’s easy to let the waiting cloud what you think of the eventual result. It can let something appear much better than it actually is, or take away from something that is good, but maybe not quite in the way you had hoped. Broadway has made its fans wait a long time for the follow-up to 2009’s phenomenal Kingdoms. As a result, Gentlemen’s Brawl unfortunately falls into the second category. A slight departure from the band’s debut, it has its fair share of bright spots, but just seems to be too little too late.
If there’s one thing Gentlemen’s Brawl doesn’t lack, it’s energy, and “Party at Sean’s House” kicks the record off well with an opening breakdown that builds a great sense of excitement for what’s to come. Full of lyrics that reminisce towards more carefree times in the past, this is sure to become a fan-favorite from the record. The chorus is endlessly catchy, and there’s a strong buildup to a key change that ends the song on a really strong note. The production makes everything sound huge, which plays well to the tone of the track. “Faster, Faster” brings some nice guitar riffs to the table, but they are sadly buried a bit in the mix. As with the opener, there are plenty of quick melodies in the vocals and a catchy chorus, keeping the energy levels high.
More reserved than the first two tracks, “Better Things” is the first well-needed resting breath. Since it’s not a nonstop melodic attack, the song allows for some of the dynamics in the vocal part to shine through, and there’s a lot more space to the song which lets things like the guitar solo stand out better than it might have in the first two tracks. It’s a nice change of pace, but the song is unfortunately ultimately a bit forgettable in the total scope of the record. Lead single “Vagrant Stories,” on the other hand, is a highlight. With a great drum part, strong guitar riffs, a memorable chorus, and the repeating “maybe I was meant for something more” that would have been right at home on Kingdoms, there’s plenty to love about this song.
While it’s obvious that “I Am Not a Rockstar” is intended to be satirical, it’s not entirely clear why this song was included on the album. Don’t get me wrong, the music’s solid and melodies are really catchy. However, the lyrics are simply atrocious. The MySpace reference certainly dates the song, and it’s almost embarrassing from the first few moments of the track: “I straight-iron my hair, took me ’bout ten minutes to get my tight pants on…” I understand the dislike for the song’s subject, but I’d have preferred a (MySpace?) blog rant and a complete rewrite of what’s here, since there’s so much potential to the musical elements. Luckily, “There’s No Crying In Baseball” brings some stronger songwriting, and sounds closest to what I was expecting from the follow-up to Kingdoms – interesting lyrics, guitar parts, and song structure, a little more refined and polished. “I Can’t Do This Alone” gives a taste of Misha Camacho’s lower register, which could be implemented more frequently to give variety and better show off his talents. He can hit the high notes, but it’s less impressive without a baseline to build from. In any case, the song’s somewhat straightforward, but it’s a solid rock track and pretty enjoyable.
While the mid-tempo first verse of “Lawyered” could find a comfortable fit on The Used‘s latest record, the rest of the song lives up to the energy promised by the first few tracks of the record. Though nowhere near as bad as “I Am Not a Rockstar,” the lyrics are a little lacking, feeling impersonal and a bit forced. With that said, it’s similar to that track in that the music’s pretty great. A little more work on the words, and this would’ve been another album highlight. “Medication,” on the other hand, has some solid lines and tones the energy down a bit. The bridge on this one is really, really great, making for one of the best moments on the record. Unfortunately, “I’ve Got the Itis” takes another step backwards, with the repeated “I’m so lazy” seeming to take up the majority of the track and the musical elements being too straightforward to bring any redemption. The title track has some of the most aggressive verses of the entire record, and though the lyrics are nothing special, the chorus will be stuck in your head for a long time. The lead-in to the breakdown is another high point, and the brief screaming portion would have been more than welcome earlier on. Another song full of really great parts, “Gentlemen’s Brawl” ends the album as effectively as it was started.
With each missed deadline leading up to the release of Gentlemen’s Brawl, I tried my best to be patient, in hopes that the delays would eventually lead to a better album. In some ways, the album is better. It’s fast-paced and exciting, explores some new territory in a more rock-based departure, and has its fair share of catchy hooks that make listening to the record pretty fun. However, it’s hard to separate this album from its backstory, from its predecessor, from the wait. Because of this, it suffers. I can’t help but think that this record would have sounded a lot better a year ago. Some of the lyrics seem a bit dated and lacking for emotion or sincerity, and it doesn’t feel like quite the progression three years should have given. I understand that a lot of this material is older and that the release date doesn’t quite fit, but it’s hard to shake those thoughts when the music’s been in a vacuum and your ears haven’t. Don’t get me wrong, I like the record, plan to keep spinning it a lot, and definitely recommend checking it out, but maybe I just expected too much.