In Defense of Anniversary Tribute Albums

In the last few years, there has been a flood of “reimagined” versions of classic albums and songs. Some might see this as a waste, since it’s not technically new material. But in recent years, the ante has been upped in many ways beyond a basic acoustic cover. Acoustic versions of songs are always a welcome addition to a band’s catalog, but complete re-recordings offer a chance to reevaluate the journey, and analyze not only why the album meant so much in the first place, but also how the listeners and the bands have matured in the years between.

The Wonder Years were the first band to really catch my attention with reimagined versions of their songs. Burst & Decay Vol. I slowed down tempos, revitalized the lyrics of songs like “Don’t Let Me Cave In” to be conversational and somber reflections. “Cardinals”, a song already heavy in terms of regrets over a failed friendship, becomes even more burdensome when every single lyric has time to resonate. Though the reimagined versions of songs never quite match the scale or eccentric hype of the original, the new attention serves as a reminder for why these songs resonated so well with fans.

All Time Low’s It’s Still Nothing Personal tribute album may be the best example of a re-recorded release. Nothing Personal helped cement All Time Low as a permanent fixture in the scene. In the decade since, their sound has morphed to the point that it’s hard to see them as the motley crew standing on the stage of the “Weightless” music video in a small club anymore. This updated version of Nothing Personal hardly surpasses the original, but it shows listeners just how starkly the band has grown since then. 

Singer Alex Gaskarth’s voice is much more rich and mature, compared to the autotuned vocals of the original release. The guitars are more relaxed, and the production tighter. The addition of harsh vocals during “Lost In Stereo” changes the dynamic of the song when compared to the poppier lyrics. It’s also a stark reminder of the chances the band are willing to take that never would have appeared on earlier albums. The addition is minimal, but it’s a curve that makes the song instantly different, especially when paired with the vocal twists of Gaskarth. Even the closing track “Therapy” benefits from the restraint of the full band.

We the Kings’ Self Titled Nostalgia does the same by removing the guitars entirely and rewriting every song as a piano-driven, semi-electronica experiment. Though the original songs were seminal pop songs of their era, these reworked versions sound less like emo-pop songs and more like the soothing anthems of romance that they were always meant to be. 

In contrast, Asian Kung-Fu Generation’s Sol-fa 2016 is strikingly similar to the Sol-fa album released in 2004. AKFG, one of Japan’s most famous rock bands, are well known in the States for “Rewrite,” one of the opening songs to the original “Fullmetal Alchemist” anime. The version on 2016’s release features singer Masafumi Gotoh’s with slightly more matured vocals, and the instrumentation tighter and closer to the sound the band plays during live shows. “Re:Re:” includes a new instrumental opening that vastly improves the song, as live show performances had proven for over a decade. 

These types of anniversary albums feel different from other reworked albums, such as Eisley’s I’m Only Dreaming and I’m Only Dreaming… Of Days Long Past. Part of this is due to both albums being released so close together. A decade between re-workings gives space to appreciate the alternate versions of songs, whereas these albums feel more akin to two halves of the same piece. 

This is the case as well for Dashboard Confessional’s Alter The Ending, which released a full band and acoustic album together. These types of albums are extremely welcome, and gives the artist the opportunity to stretch and not feel restrained when the sound they hear is so much wider than a single song. However, it still doesn’t hold the same affection to something like Yellowcard’s Ocean Avenue Acoustic, which was in part a celebration of the band’s reformation.

It’s hard to say that any band has fully found the best way to honor a fan-favorite album, but re-recording them with 10 extra years of experience, insight and creativity is something that more bands should embrace. It’s a way to show appreciation to the fans that have stuck around for so long. It also allows bands the opportunity to show how much they’ve grown when tasked to rewrite the songs they created as kids.

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_catKyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and doesn’t understand why the birds won’t come to his window to say hello. It’s just a new birdhouse! There’s still seed, so why won’t this HOARDE OF SPARROWS lay siege to the windows once more?! Cowardly birds!

Review: All Time Low – Wake Up, Sunshine

All Time Low are one of the few bands who have never seemed to lose steam. Though some of the more recent albums never quite lived up the magic of their original few, the release of new music from All Time Low has always felt like an event. Fortunately, Wake Up, Sunshine is an event. At the time of writing this, most of the world is in some form of lockdown from the COVID-19 virus, and it feels like the world itself is collapsing. Wake Up, Sunshine is not just a summer album, it is a spark of hope in the darkness that promises the best is yet to come by looking back on the past.

You can buy or stream Wake Up, Sunshine on Apple Music.

While many of the group’s recent albums experimented and leaned heavier into pop sensibilities, the results were often mixed. Where Wake Up, Sunshine succeeds is in marrying the punk buzz of Nothing Personal with the pop ambitions of Last Young Renegade. The guitars are heavier, the pop more polished and intelligently implemented, and anthemic choruses abound that rank among All Time Low’s best.

In many ways, this album feels like a sister album to Nothing Personal. Where that album was a battle anthem of youth looking towards the future, Wake Up, Sunshine looks back on that time of life through a mature lens. Instead of free-loving anthems like “Damned If I Do Ya (Damned If I Don’t)”, songs like “Trouble Is” reflect on the deep connection and curse of love. Instead of declaring that this will be the year that they make it (“Weightless”), the band asks their audience if this music is still what they want to hear (“Some Kind of Disaster”).

Where the two albums definitely overlap is in their sense of sexiness, romance, swagger, and the instantly memorable choruses and hooks. 

More than any of their past work, Wake Up, Sunshine reflects on being thankful for making it so far. “Some Kind of Disaster” sets the theme for the record, essentially prepping the audience to go on the journey of connecting over an album again with stadium-rock guitars and rippling bass (“And it’s all my fault that I’m still the one you want. / So what are you after? / Some kind of disaster”). 

Other songs allude to the band’s growth in small ways. “Clumsy”, with glam guitar sizzling over a dance rhythm, addresses the realization of the band being too full of themselves in the past, with vocalist Gaskarth singing, “I got too high on myself / Too young and stupid to tell / I was bound to make a mess of things / Mixing fireworks and gasoline / Now I’m out to make you fall with me”. Meanwhile, “Basement Noise” softly reflects on memories of starting out as kids practicing in drummer Rian’s basement (“Cut our teeth chasing the weekend  / Capsize and fall in the deep end”).

Other topics are tackled to certain degrees as well. Title track “Wake Up, Sunshine” weaves a narrative of loving yourself against taking a stand against the internet echo chambers that many people find themselves lost in. “Everybody wants to be somebody / I just want you to see how good you are / You don’t have to lean on the crutch of a daydream / To see that you shine like a star.” 

And as always, there are the songs of romance. “Sleeping In”, arguably All Time Low’s best single since “Weightless”, is a passionate love song (“If I said ‘I want your body’, would you hold it against me?”) that builds itself up with verses filled with dance beats and choruses made for mosh pits. “Favorite Place”, a call and return of romance with The Band CAMINO, features a beautiful sparkling instrumentation and haunted backing vocals (“It’s the distance we don’t need / Yeah, you’re everything I love about the things I hate in me”). 

Meanwhile, although “January Gloom (Seasons, Pt. 1)” and “Summer Daze (Seasons, Pt. 2)” would otherwise sound like low points on an album this rich,  they take on more meaning in this time when people around the world are locked in their homes. “January Gloom” resonates so much with seasonal depression disorder at this time, when it’s just starting to get warm but we can’t go outside. Meanwhile, “Summer Daze” plays with dreamy lyrics of summer romance and teasing of just how wonderful it will be to get outside again (“Serendipity and summer showers / We soak it up like flowers / Growing through the concrete”).

Wake Up, Sunshine is one of the strongest albums of All Time Low’s career. It carves its own path by reflecting on the pop punk scene that raised the band, and leaning into the pop scene that has expanded their career in remarkable ways. It may get bonus points just for being something positive in a time of national crisis, but in the end, All Time Low’s best music has always been about the promise of looking forward. Wake Up, Sunshine is the right album released at the right time to help those that listen march through this crisis and feel hopeful on the other side.

4.5/5

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_catKyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and just fed his cat an unreasonable amount of chicken. A few bits would have been fine, but this was best described as “a chunk”. That little creep shouldn’t be able to fit that much in a stomach that physically small. The obvious answer then, is that cats are monsters and where internal organs should be, there is only…. the void. SCIENCE!

It’s All Dead Podcast Episode: 014 – The Best of All Time Low

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Fresh off of their highest charting album to date, pop punk stars All Time Low are flying high. On the latest installment of the official It’s All Dead podcast, Kiel and Kyle break down Future Hearts, rank each All Time Low album and share their favorite songs from the band’s discography. During the discussion, they also chat about the band’s future and legacy. Listen in!

Subscribe to our podcast here.

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Review: All Time Low – Future Hearts

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There’s a level of excitement that surrounds a new release from All Time Low that most bands will never see. Each of their albums becomes an event for the pop punk community, whether that be for better or worse. Where the issue lies is that a core group of their fans (myself included) can’t stop hoping for the same connection to an album like So Wrong, It’s Right, even as the band matures and grows artistically. Even though they’ve delivered time and time again, writing some of the best songs in the genre in the process, there is still a level of disappointment that follows them from record to record.

Future Hearts is the best record All Time Low have written since So Wrong, It’s Right. It is the culmination of the best elements of their last releases finally put together to create their most concise record in years. It is an album that, like Harry Potter, has aged itself with the fans from throughout their career instead of appeasing the appetites of teenagers just wanting something to sing along to. The sacrifice though, is a lack of power songs that will forever define them the way that “Dear Maria, Count Me In” or the best songs from Nothing Personal did.

Future Hearts sounds like a sister album to Dirty Work, or rather it’s what Dirty Work should have been. The songs lean to the edge of alternative rock and hone on anthemic choruses and radio-ready pop warfare. The sophistication of the writing coupled with the production make it sound much more mature than the album probably deserves.

This is also the ATL with the least amount of New Found Glory-esque popping guitar melodies, opting instead for melody driven by vocals backed with rushing guitars and heavy percussion(“Kids In the Dark”), which at times hampers the sound. It’s a testament to each members’ musicianship; from focusing so heavily on vocals, each instrument still pushes through brightly.

Jack Barakat and Alex Gaskarth play some heavy guitar parts that shifts from raging power chords to melodic acoustic based ballads (“Kicking and Screaming”, “Cinderblock Garden”). Zack Merrick’s bass bolsters the guitars heavily, keeping them from feeling flat at times and sharking just beneath the surface. Rian Dawson’s percussion is arguably the second most relied on instrument after Gaskarth’s vocals. The drums are powerful, heavy and moving.

Gaskarth’s vocals are standard fare at this point; he’s an amazing singer with remarkable range. He makes full use of it throughout the record, and provides small background snippets during songs just before launching into the chorus. Gang vocals are dropped generously throughout the record. However, for relying on Gaskarth’s vocals so heavily, he sounds slightly muted and uninspired compared to what we know he’s capable of. Still, he’s wickedly impressive. More impressive though are how well he melds with the guest vocalists Mark Hoppus and Joel Madden.

One of the catch twenty-twos of the album is the lyricism. There are clichés aplenty to hamper any growth thematically, as it’s impossible to count how many “in the dark” phrases are splayed throughout. It pays off as it attempts to slant a ‘grown up’ vibe to themes of heartbreak and drunken mistakes, as well as reflecting on youth as a disjointed and possibly even broken concept of freedom. On the opener, “Satellite”, Gaskarth sings, “Wishing on a star that’s just a satellite / Driving in a car with broken tail-lights / Growing up with eyes glued shut”.

However, the legendarily catchy lyricism is alive and well over all, such as during “Tidal Waves” as Alex sings serenely, “I earned my place with the tidal waves / I can’t escape this feeling that something ain’t right / I called my name as I crashed the gates / Still I can’t escape this feeling that something ain’t right / Why don’t you think before you speak? / Cause you don’t know me at all”.

Future Hearts isn’t perfect, but it’s the reason why we wait so anxiously for each new album from All Time Low. They are so far and above where they should be as musicians for a band that seemed to fill the party-punk void left after Blink-182 disappeared. It’s easy to write them off as just another pop-punk band, but that would undercut the ever growing talent and patches to older efforts.

4/5

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_catKyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and has seen All Time Low there at least four times. You know, like a stalker or lonely mountain goat.

Most Anticipated of 2015: #7 All Time Low Returns to the Forefront

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I always get ahead of myself with All Time Low. I’ve been a fan for almost a decade now (that feels weird to say) and can’t wait for their new album. Like most of their fans, I see All Time Low as an ambassador of classic pop punk, as they came on the scene just as the genre was fading in the mid-2000’s and Blink 182 neared their collapse. After the release of So Wrong, It’s Right and even into Nothing Personal, All Time Low utterly dominated pop punk, much to the praise and remorse of the genre’s fans.

I remember the excitement and the energy behind them during that time, and the amazement after the first time I saw them play live. It makes me count down the days to their next release, just as it is now, even though I should know better. Fans have been quite divided as to whether they’ve lived up to the hype since the release of So Wrong, It’s Right, but there is no denying the potential the band has at writing some of the best songs of their generation.

Their new release is slated for March, and there are more reasons to be excited for it than just memories and hype. Alex Gaskarth has been busy writing with ‘pop punk supernovas’ 5 Seconds of Summer, there are reports that Mark Hoppus has been writing with the band, and most recently, Absolutepunk reported Rian Dawson saying that the drumming will be for “lovers of the 2000’s pop-punk sound”. Don’t give a shit, that’s always good news.

To top it off, they’re headlining a tour with Issues, Tonight Alive and State Champs around the time of their album’s release. The year is looking busy for the boys from Baltimore.

Whether you’re a fan or despise them, there’s no denying the electricity when All Time Low come back with a new release. Whether it will whet the appetite of the pop punk faithful or aim for a middle ground is hard to predict, but the results will be damn good regardless.

kyle_catKyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and was once almost fired from Panera Bread for blasting “Dear Maria, Count Me In” way too loud on the stereo in back of house to be reasonable during peak dining hours.