Man Overboard has always been that band that stood just on my peripheral vision. Their battle ready slogan of “Defend Pop Punk” made you root for them, but something was always just a little off. “Cliffhanger”, off of the new album Heavy Love does a good job of explaining what I mean, as dual singers Nik Bruzzese and Zac Eisenstein rattle off the lyrics, “I realized that I’m a natural second best / And whatever is against me, I’ll appear as something less”.
But that isn’t this album. Heavy Love is the first Man Overboard album that really grabs what the band should have been all along and never lets it go.
Man Overboard have a definite hardcore fanbase, but they’ve seemed unable to really take advantage of the pop punk community in the way that their peers have over the last few years. Part of that, I believe, is that their albums have always felt lopsided. There are a few very good songs, and a plague of what could be argued as filler. Heavy Love feels like the first album that takes advantage of Man Overboard’s talent as songwriters. It’s the first album of theirs that I didn’t find myself skipping tracks on the second listen through.
In many ways, it reminds me of Saves the Day’s In Reverie or Weezer (pick any of the colored albums). The band has the confidence to push themselves in ways that they never had before, mixing smooth surfer rock and the harsh crunch of heavier pop punk successfully over emo lyricism.
In many ways, I wish this were the self-titled album of the band’s career, as it gives their sound the full body that it has always deserved. The guitars are heavy where they need to be, melodic and crisp. Listen to the way they pop and bounce during “Invisible”, the Say Anything/Franz Ferdinand styled breakdowns of “Deal”, or the control and melody of “A Love That I Can’t Have” before breaking into an all-out fury as the song fades to a close.
Nik Bruzzese’s bass rumbles along slightly overshadowed by the guitars, but pounds out some solid melody. Joe Talarico’s drumming seems a bit restrained during parts of the album, but unleashes full power when the songs break into choruses or solos. He basically commands “Deal” with quick snaps and rolling snares throughout the song.
Nik and Zac’s vocals are the best they’ve ever been. Zac’s deeper voice is a perfect balance to Nik’s surprisingly high notes. They really push themselves in ways that I’m not sure I’ve heard before.
Perhaps the biggest complaint that I’ve heard against Man Overboard is that their lyrics are regularly hit or miss, often covering the same material. Expect more of the same, just much, much better. With an album title of Heavy Love, it’d be ludicrous to think that the subject matter would be about anything other than relationships. It’s disappointing that the band hasn’t explored much beyond this subject matter, but what is reassuring is that it’s consistent this time around: the choruses are memorable, the verses are simplistic, but hold a depth the last albums lacked.
Heavy Love’s themes revolve around broken relationships. What is weird is that the songs don’t even seem particularly angry, but the overall tone is that of frustration with attempting to fix relationships. Lines like “If you never come home / Then you really must know / I adored you, and I adore you now” from “Splinter” or “And I already know / Cuz I can already tell / From how it feels / And how I just keep looking at you / I keep your pictures and I stare right at you”, from “She’s In Pictures” litter the album. It’s explored territory for sure, but there’s no arguing a good chorus when you hear it.
Heavy Love is what Man Overboard should have been a few years ago. This is the album that they should be known for. It doesn’t have the simple pop songs that makes a band stand out initially (see “Dead End Dreams”), but is instead packed full of every element that makes a pop punk record great. There is a lot of territory that the band isn’t covering and few places that push the boundaries of the genre as much as their peers. But Heavy Love is a solid album and a fun listen that justifies all the time invested in hoping the band really comes out on top.
As the verse in “Cliffhanger” ends, the band shout defiantly, “And the sad thing is that I’ve never been better / But if you look at the facts, you know I’ve never been better”.
by Kyle Schultz