Okay, look—before we go analyzing the crap out of this thing, let me start with the punch line: Don’t Panic, the latest offering from pop-punk band All Time Low, is just plain ear candy. It’s great music, and fun to listen to. However you classify this band, the most important thing that can be said about the record is that is pleasing to the ear, and for many, satisfying to the soul.
There are many who would argue that the band’s last effort Dirty Work was, indeed, an “all time low” for All Time Low. Grossly overproduced and candy-coated, it was as close as I’ve ever heard a pop-punk band venture toward bubble-gum pop—and considering that for some people the term “pop-punk” is an oxymoron, anyhow, it certainly didn’t help the band’s case at all. Suffice it to say that it bled out what little grit there was to give All Time Low its edge.
But the mark of any good band is not the ability to create perfection each time around, but the ability to correct its course—and with Don’t Panic (whose title could easily be interpreted as a reassuring message to fans), All Time Low has definitely returned to the defining elements that made them worth listening to. They returned to indie label Hopeless Records (probably one of the smartest moves they could have made), and threw a bit more grit back into the production value. In short, this sounds like All Time Low again.
So let’s look at the pop-punk thing just for a minute. Some within the punk community would automatically write off All Time Low and their ilk as sell-outs because there is admittedly a huge pop/rock element to their style. For me, the problem I have with so much pop-punk is not the bleedover, but the over-simplicity that far too often makes it redundant. Pop tends to be a bit simple in its form, and so does punk, so blending the two often creates a deep musical rut that is hard to break out of. (There are only so many things you can do with three power chords and a drum beat.)
That said, the thing I love about this band, and about this record in particular, is the band’s demonstrated ability to write a great hook while keeping diversity in their music—in the chord structures, in the rhythms, and in their arrangements. I’m not saying the music isn’t somewhat predictable (that’s to be expected in this genre), but the songs are catchy, danceable, and satisfying to listen to—and nearly every song on the track list contains a stick-in-your-brain chorus. In this genre, that adds up to really good songwriting that is only enhanced by great performances.
To get to specifics—the opening two tracks, “The Reckless And the Brave” and “Backseat Serenade”, set a solid path for the rest of the album to run on, and are among the strongest on the record. (I dare you not to wind up singing one of these two songs the rest of the day after hearing them.) Other standouts include the very sing-able lead single “For Baltimore,” as well as “Outlines,” which tastefully blends some electronic elements into one of the record’s most passionate tracks. Interestingly, the greatest dichotomy on the album happens between tracks 5 and 6; “So Long Soldier”, one of the record’s edgier tunes, sees the band venture most toward its punk roots, while the bland follow-up “The Irony Of Choking On a Lifesaver” sounds more like it belongs on the last record, and really could have been dropped from the track list.
All Time Low never actually went anywhere; they just sort of lost their way for awhile. But Don’t Panic is such a solid return to the best elements of this band that is almost plays like a comeback album. It’s a well-crafted record that is certain to make a lot of fans very, very happy.