Four Year Strong - In Some Way, Shape or Form
Release Date: November 8, 2011
Record Label: Decaydence/Motown
It must really suck to be Set Your Goa….oh, nevermind.
When Worcester, Mass.’s proudest sons parted ways with keyboardist/yeller/hype-man Josh Lyford, fans suspected that Four Year Strong might be aiming for a more straightforward rock sound on their fourth full-length record, In Some Way, Shape or Form. Not many, however, could have been anticipating the stretch the now-four-piece made after 2010’s insanely addicting Enemy of the World.
Four Year Strong is still very much the same band at its core, but instead of playing lighthearted guitar riffs and breakdowns meant to make you smile inside, the band has evolved into a beast of a heavy, radio-y rock group. This sounds negative – and kids who yearn for the days of yellow and purple Rise Or Die Trying LPs might already hate this album – but even though FYS has certainly taken a controversial step in its sound, it’s hardly a bad thing.
Blistering opener “Infected” shows that there’s no real difference in the guitar work or call-and-return vocal action between Alan Day and Dan O’Connor. This band has always been the Day and O’Connor show, with crisp, distorted guitars providing the backdrop for gruff vocal tradeoffs. The difference we see on In Some Way, Shape or Form, frankly, is the presence of corniness. Cheap radio moments are thrown into otherwise solid tracks at times – see the bridge of “Falling On You” or all three and a half minutes of “Stuck In the Middle.”
There are certain standouts on ISWSOF (seriously what a weird-looking acronym), but unfortunately much of the album bleeds together. “Fairweather Fan” will definitely be a crowd-pleaser, with its cries of “We’ve said it before / We’ll say it again / Rise! Or die trying.” The song title carries its share of irony, as Four Year Strong will most likely see a chunk of its original fan base fall off the bandwagon with this record. But with all the new fans they’ll be gaining when the awesomely catchy, 90s-tinged “Just Drive” hits your local rock station, it’s a loss Four Year Strong can bear.
Other highlights include the head-bobbing “Heaven Wasn’t Built to Hold Me” and the gang-vocal-laden “Bring on the World.” Unfortunately, In Some Way, Shape or Form has a couple of complete duds. Aside from the fact that the album runs together in similar-sounding guitar work, there are complete must-skip songs, like closer “Only the Meek Get Pinched, The Bold Survive.” While the song is decent when it kicks into gear, it’s almost impossible to make it past the slow, piano-led, ballad-y introduction. The fact that Four Year Strong would write a song like this – and put in on a record, no less – is testament to the band’s complete different mindset from previous recording sessions.
People will inevitably call this record a “sell out” move. But hey, readers, this is 2011. No one sells 10 million copies of anything anymore. There’s no place to sell out to. You sell out to 2 million Facebook likes, if you’re lucky. Four Year Strong is on the fast track to breaking down an important barrier. If this band can cross over into the mainstream, and start playing to larger crowds, and start becoming a household name, that’s a major plus for the entire, burgeoning pop-punk scene as a whole. What’s good for Four Year Strong is, by direct correlation, good for The Wonder Years. Or for Man Overboard. Or for Fireworks. Or for any other band Four Year Strong ever takes on tour. If Four Year Strong can use this record to make it onto the airwaves, who’s to say it won’t lead to a rejuvenation of actual worthwhile music infiltrating the mainstream? Sure, it may be a stretch to think this way. But it’s all got to start somewhere.
So while I, as a long-time FYS fan, would have loved to have another Enemy of the World, complete with breakdowns and gang vocals to yell at my laptop, it’s hard to fault this group’s progression. The path this band is taking reminds me slightly of Rise Against’s ascension to massive popularity, and maybe Four Year Strong is just a year or two away from headlining amphitheaters as well. Even though ISWSOF turns in an “okay” overall performance, buoyed by a few standouts, I’ll take this record in with open arms, congratulate the band on their imminent rise to greater popularity, and hope it opens a few doors for the rest of the genre. Four Year Strong, with In Some Way, Shape or Form, may have finally lived up to its role as leaders in the community.
Oh damn. 2 for 2. Called out SYG now you're calling out FYS. Not to say I don't agree with you (although I personally really enjoy stuck in the middle). Just saying, hopefully alan and dan take this better that the SYG guys did