We may have already been given 5 out of the 10 songs before the release date, and it would be easy to assume that the surprise had all but been spoilt, but there truly is nothing like listening to a concept album in full for the very first time.
Last Young Renegade encompasses a plethora of emotions in a tightly put together amalgamation of strength, change, nostalgia, hope, and love.
It is without a doubt All Time Low‘s most coherent album of their 13-year career, and while it’s a far cry from the band we fell in love with back in 2005, looking back at the the transitions they have made in sounds over the years, it somehow makes so much sense that this is where they ended up. There is a total authenticity that shines out with every note that leaves absolutely no doubt that this is where All Time Low are meant to be at this point in their career. The lyrical themes are somewhat deeper and darker than we are perhaps used to, as lead singer and lyricist Alex Gaskarth reflects on himself through this character that allowed him to write about issues that he has otherwise struggled to address.
From the opening note of title-track Last Young Renegade to the very last moment in Afterglow, I was completely engaged. It forces you to listen to every lyric, to take in every emotion, and to notice every sonic decision that they have made – especially those that set it apart from their previous material.
Last Young Renegade sets the tone, introducing us to the character that lies underneath every track from this point onwards. Immediately we know there will be less dirty pop-punk sounds than we are used to, as it pushes us more towards the pop side of that spectrum from the very start. While it doesn’t necessarily sound sad, we still feel the pain of losing someone you hoped you never would, before the album launches into Drugs and Candy – a metaphorical track that compares a somewhat toxic relationship to addictive substances. The title suggests we might be in for something that verges more on the side of bubblegum pop, but in reality, it is sonically one of the earnest sounding tracks of the whole album.
“I breathe you in, you fill my lungs. A bitter taste surrender waste.
Dirty Laundry was the first track we heard back in March, and is still up there amongst my top 3 favourites. I love that it was our first look at this new sound, and that it focuses on the future instead of dwelling on the past – something that we are all wont to do when embarking on new relationships, when in reality we all know that we have a past that we would rather everyone forget. It leads into Good Times – a track that I can barely even think about without tearing up. The vocal effects at the start somehow work perfectly with the lonely electric guitar intro, and everything about the sound makes your heart ache. It builds up into a climax of pure sentimentality as you reach the bridge, tugging on every part of you that loves or misses someone. Anyone who is going through a transitional phase of their life – leaving one thing to embark on something new – will feel something when listening to this one. You can almost see the car driving off into the sunset and it incites a bittersweetness that cannot be ignored.
“I’ll hate the goodbye, but I won’t forget the good times.”
Before its release, NICE2KNOU raised some eyebrows. Are we back in 2005? Should I start using “xD” instead of iOS emojis? What is happening? I was worried, but I needn’t have been. Despite the smooth integration of electronic sounds throughout, this track is probably the most reminiscent of the All Time Low we had come to know up until this point. It seems to be a “so long” to those friends you lose touch with: the ones that come in and out of your life for no other reason than you both getting busy and just having shit to do. Sometimes the track feels bitter and sometimes it feels like an apology, a plea for a reunion – even if only for one night – but it is always a whole lot of fun. Life of the Party follows, a track which at first glance appears to be a fun party song that will get you on your feet as soon as it starts playing. On reflection, though, it’s probably one of the issues that Alex Gaskarth had the most problems writing about. Most musicians want to write music, to play for fans, to have those arenas and stadiums fill up, and to help people, but every musician knows that that dream comes with a price. Life of the Party is about that fame and the expectations that come with it, and it’s pretty damn sad.
“Thrills don’t come for free, the price you pay for dreams
In a sea of strangers, I can’t find me anymore, anymore.“
Nightmares starts off sounding like it might be about to take you on a trip back in time to the Wild West, but quickly progresses into another seamlessly integrated pop-rock track that’s bound to resonate with anyone who has dealt with mental health issues. The simple music that accompanies Alex’s vocals during the chorus force you to focus on the lyrics, and it’s hard to avoid the fear that comes across from that moment onwards. It’s hard to listen to because you don’t want to think of Alex feeling that way and the realisation that you might relate is also hard to accept. At the same time, though, for anyone who is struggling, it is comforting to know that someone feels that way too, and that they were brave enough to write it down so you can feel less alone. Contrary to what the title suggests, Dark Side of Your Room picks you up immediately, as the electric drums create a beat that you can’t help but tap along to. Lyrically, though, it takes a more upsetting turn, as seems to be a trend throughout the record. It tells a story of unrequited feelings developed over the course of a ~casual love affair~ and how despite quiet hopes from one party, it never progressed into anything more.
“I’ve gotta say, it’s hard to be brave when you’re alone in the dark.
I told myself I wouldn’t be scared, but I’m still having nightmares”
I was most excited for their collaboration with Tegan & Sara and despite such high expectations, Ground Control didn’t even come close to disappointing. There would have been a certain hollowness without the female vocals that fill out beautifully in the chorus, and while it was only later that the band decided to include the pair, it’s almost as though it written with them in mind. Their addition also allows for extra thematic depth, as it seems that the two sides are talking to each other, each fulfilling their roles as they plead with and reassure each other.
All Time Low have said themselves that following Ground Control, the album felt open ended, and Afterglow is exactly what it needed to tie it up. It allows the album to finish with a more positive outlook than what we would otherwise be left with. It represents hope and acceptance of what you have. As you listen to it, you feel the weight leave you as you start to float with all of the air that’s finally filled your lungs. It’s a flawless finale as the organised mess of instruments stop, and you’re left with soft vocals accompanied by an even softer beat that fade out leaving you feeling utterly content.
All Time Low have matured in a way that perhaps many never expected them to. If you think back to tracks like 2009’s Stella or even I Feel Like Dancin’ from 2011’s Dirty Work, it’s hard to imagine how they got here. That’s not to say that there hasn’t always been a sincere side to them, but whereas before those moments were more sporadic, every last thing about Last Young Renegade oozes sincerity. It’s not just different, it’s better.