I really wanted to love this record.
I’m quite happy to say I’m a pretty big fan of State Champs. I’ve seen them a good few times now, and while they’re a very strong live proposition, on recorded material I find they’re a band I always return back to and love a blast through their back catalogue. While it’s easy to comment that they don’t deviate very far from their tried-and-tested method, I don’t really have a problem with that as straight-up, simple pop-punk has a real place in my favourite genres.
What had made me even more excited for Living Proof was the quality of the first songs released to the world from it. Dead and Gone is a total banger, and the video only served to drive the anticipation up. I think that’s what’s making it even more of a disappointment to say that the rest of the album just leaves me a little bit cold: at the very least it most certainly doesn’t have the magnetic pull, the addictiveness, that the rest of State Champs’ back catalogue contains.
This isn’t me saying by any means that this is a dreadful record, or even a bad one. In fact, it’s a well put-together, solid enough effort that would find a home in any pop-punk fan’s collection. There are some strong tracks, as well as some slight variations on State Champs’ theme: again, though, I can’t help but feel they’ve missed an opportunity here by perhaps not pushing themselves far enough.
Of the two opening tracks, Criminal and Frozen, the former far exceeds the latter in quality. It’s got the driving, sugar-coated pop-punk adrenaline rush that State Champs are known for; there’s a slightly more floaty bridge into the chorus which works well, and there’re elements towards the end which wouldn’t sound out of place on The Finer Things or Around The World and Back. I’m not sure about Frozen at all, myself: while I quite like the crashing waves of the chorus, it doesn’t have either enough edge or polish to be a standout track at all.
Third effort Crystal Ball was one of those released prior to the album being on the shelves, and it’s another one I don’t really get. I’m quite a fan of the choppy chorus and the old-school angst it contains; but the verses are just confused and don’t really seem to know where they’re going, almost wandering aimlessly down the path of the song. It’s a good example of a missed opportunity: the chorus here is cracking, but the rest of the track just lets it down.
Dead and Gone comes next and as you’ll already know, I’m a massive fan of this song. It represents a bit of a step forward for State Champs for me: ramping up the slightly raw-er elements to Derek’s vocal. There’s some excellent gang vocals and it’s just one of those I’ve returned to many times.
As, to be fair, is Our Time To Go. While it’s a slower, more anthemic effort, it is a really strong one with just the right amount of emotion and (pop-punk) pain dripping from the vocals. The chorus does feel quite a lot like it could be from any generic superhero blockbuster (I’m drawing some bizarre similarities between Chad Kroeger and Josey Scott’s Hero of Spiderman fame in terms of the way it’s structured) but it’s simple and easily accessible, and very, very catchy.
Safe Haven starts a bit too funkily for my liking, and continues in the upbeat, bouncy style which is more power-pop than pop-punk. The chorus again, though, canters along enjoyably with some really snappy drumming and a decent, nod-along energy. There’s that sparkly verse to contend with again then, though.
Nicely bass-driven, Something About You starts off well enough, with some good technical drumming as we reach the bridge into the chorus…which is where the good things stop. I could be listening to a mix between Good Charlotte, Bowling for Soup and Busted here; which trust me is not a combination I had ever hoped to hear. It’s radio-fodder times a thousand.
The Fix Up, on the other hand, does indeed fix up the album as a whole for me. It builds and builds so well, with the brooding energy complemented well by the angsty chorus. Simple and slower than some of the other tracks on the record, you can tell it’s going to be a live favourite. Conversely it never really gets going too wildly, but actually works better for that. A well put together effort, this.
The next track is decent enough as well: inoffensive if not a stand-out song for a band whom we know can deliver so much better. However, Cut Through The Static is one I’d definitely leave on if it came up on the iPod shuffle.
Mine Is Gold is another which was revealed prior to the album’s relief: again I’m not a massive fan of the changes of pace and the song’s structure. I am quite a fan of the lyrics here though, with the chorus being particularly strong for me. I found Time Machine to be absolute filler; Sidelines works well for me though and closes the record off really well.
I’m sure you can tell where I’m going with this review. As earlier stated, it’s not a terrible effort by any stretch; but it just to me is the sound of a band being a bit lazy and not maximising their talents in delivering a record. There are some real highlights here, but as a whole this isn’t State Champs’ finest hour by any stretch.