Oh, Common Life caught me off guard almost immediately, all at once being nothing quite like I expected, but everything I had hoped it would be.
Fireworks have never quite made the headlines that they deserve, but have proven themselves as brazen artists attempting to push the boundaries of pop punk and unwilling to let their peers pass them an inch. Depending on what you’re looking for, Oh, Common Life will either be somewhat disappointing or album of the year.
First and foremost, if you liked the sound of Gospel, Oh, Common Life expands on it significantly, adding in a heavy flourish of Saves the Day circa In Reverie grunge pop and elements of Hellogoodbye’s indie synth. While the album is laced with the faster pop punk songs that the band is generally known for, Oh Common Life is much more paced. It definitely takes a step back to leave much more room for the addition of a haunting keyboard that bleeds through the melodies.
This is Fireworks much more mature than they’ve ever been, creating a more standardized rock album that has the bounce of jazz. The rhythm guitar fuzzes mechanically, creating a harsh layer that allows the bass and lead guitar to dance over it without being squashed. Bassist Kyle O’Neil consistently becomes one of the highlights of the songs, as his riffs find their way intertwined beautifully with the lead guitars.
The best way that I can describe the album is that the faster songs are wicked powerful while many of the slower paced songs remind me of “Teeth” from Gospel; slow, poppy and highly melodic. However, each song maintains an incredible hook and relentless drive.
Vocalist David Mackinder is perhaps at his strongest yet, finding the perfect melody to match the music. Although he doesn’t strain himself too harshly, he matches, if not tops his performance from Gospel. It also shows him at his most mature, forgoing the easy and generic topics like lost girlfriends and focuses on the process of growing up.
The use of callbacks late in the album is sparse, but it help the lyrics feel like a complete story and a full unit. Most notable is the theme of his father. It’s a surprising and subtle theme, but best illustrates the concept of growing up.
In “Play God Only Knows At My Funeral”, Mackinder sings “I’m half the man my father knows I should be”. A bit later in “Run, Brother, Run”, he sings, “I was twenty-five when my dad died, my arms felt weak and my heart grew tired”, before a gorgeous part of the chorus, “I’m getting used to my skin but it doesn’t feel right, I’ve shared my name with a stranger all my life / And I feel it all”.
Oh, Common Life shows Fireworks at their best, subdued and quieter than we’re used to, baring their fangs sparingly for maximum effect. It’s sure to be their In Reverie, in that most hardcore fans are sure to love it, but it may not be the favorite of the average listener.
What it represents is the pinnacle of a band that grew from a New Found Glory sound-a-like to one of the bands at the forefront of the present pop punk movement. Oh, Common Life is brooding, uplifting, morose and surprisingly optimistic. At the end of the day, it’s an early contender as one of the year’s best albums.
by Kyle Schultz