There have been three big albums for me personally released over the past six or so weeks: the latest effort from impassioned pop-punks Trash Boat (Crown Shyness), Blackpool heroes Boston Manor’s Welcome to the Neighbourhood and this, the fourth full-length from one of my very, very favourite bands, The Story So Far.
I had thought I would have a clear favourite from those three, a really defined order. That has proven far from the case: all are seriously brilliant in each of their own ways.
Reviews of all three will be posted up, but here we start with Proper Dose.
The release of a new album from TSSF is always a very special moment for me. It’s one of those where I plan nothing else on release day: I sit, with the music on, nothing else around me, just letting it flood over me, soaking into every pore on my body. TSSF’s music has always meant more to me than most: the emotional connection I have to this band is unprecedented for me and only matched by A Day To Remember.
To that end, I was expecting Proper Dose to instantly grab me, yank me from the chair I was sat in, and immediately plunge me ears first into a vat of TSSF-style pop-punk goodness.
Well, to be completely honest? It didn’t. Not at all.
In fact, I was left wholly disappointed. There was nothing on this eleven-track album which pulled me in, nothing which demanded an instant re-play, and nothing which made me want to listen again.
I wondered why this was the case. I’d read a number of reviews and articles about the band and the album, and snatches of these circulating kept around my mind. Proper Dose has been described as ‘brave’, while the band themselves admit getting heavily into The Beatles during the writing and recording of the new record. That of course doesn’t mean this record sounds anything like The Beatles, but it’s not necessarily the sort of influence you’d expect for the pioneers of second-wave pop-punk.
So what is it about Proper Dose? It’s very clear the record isn’t as driving, isn’t as frenetic, and isn’t dripping with the same sort of energy as the band’s other three full-lengths. The guitar sound is nowhere near as sharp, buzzing and cutting: there’s a much reduced amount of aggression, and a much less in-your-face feel to the record. It’s far less punky, and much more a rounded rock record, something I really didn’t expect from TSSF.
I have, of course, persevered with the album; and in some genius way, it’s wormed it’s way into me. I’ve found myself with the songs reverberating around my head; the choruses and the empty, haunting notes Parker hits with this more laid-back style of singing echoing mournfully around. This is not more evident than in Upside Down, a video for which has been recently released. Parker’s vocals feel almost resigned: they’re empty, haunting, and matched with the relatively gentle music in the background, deeply emotive.
No song is better evidence of the ‘new’ TSSF than Take Me As You Please: this is a rounded, acoustic-focused track, which is almost smooth in it’s delivery and which gets going after the first verse. It’s not a song that’s going to bite your head off with it’s punk rock fury; but it is a song which you sit back, listen to, pick individual lyrics from, and overall just admire the maturity from the band who gave us Quicksand. It’s almost unrecognisably different sound.
If I Fall is a bit of a highlight: it’s got an ‘on-the-boil’ feel: it’s almost hyperactive in it’s background energy. The guitar is put the back of the mix which keeps that simmering feeling going: to some extent as well I got an intriguing early-90s blink-182 vibe from this one, despite the fact that the styles of song are totally different. There’s some really lovely riffing at around the two-minute mark, which you won’t be able to stop from whistling along to.
Need To Know is probably the closest to the TSSF you know and remember: more frantic drums in the verse, Parker’s voice straining through his most gravelly of styles. That is, anyhow, until you hit the chorus, which is as smooth as anything. It’s a challenge the first few times you listen: there’s a complexity and variation to Proper Dose that the band’s first three records simply don’t contain.
If you fancy more smooth stuff from the band, head to Growing On You. This is a plodder of a song, one which languishes slowly, weaving it’s way through the 3:17 running time. It’s just a bit much for me: I need this band to at least hint at their pop-punk roots, and this song simply is just too far removed. In isolation, I’m sure this is a very nicely rounded soft-rock song: but that isn’t what I want from this band.
And you know what, that really is my overriding feeling from Proper Dose. I can’t deny that it’s a really mature, rounded and well-written album. It’s one which shows just how good a musicians TSSF: perhaps showing us something we always failed to really appreciate. But is it an album I love? No. Is it the album I wanted from the band? No. Do I respect and admire them for moving the game on once again? Yes, more so than ever.