Four Year Strong - In Some Way, Shape or Form.
Release Date: November 8, 2011
Record Label: Decaydence/Motown
There's a striking immediacy throughout an album like Four Year Strong's 2007 full length Rise or Die Trying, and it owes much to the melodies. Four Year Strong have consistently written songs so heavy with hooks that every part of a song resonates in the way that many bands can't achieve even in their choruses: it's that sing-a-long couplet that you didn't expect at the end of the second verse, the gang vocals that interrupt the riff out of nowhere and are even catchier than than the chorus before them. In this way, listening to Four Year Strong is consistently rewarding in ways that most bands in the genre never are. There's the ability to make each song resonate more clearly than the album as a whole, and then comes that peculiar trick. There's a sleight-of-hand somewhere and the whole album resonates clearly anyway and we are baffled but happy enough to listen again. Perhaps this time we will spot the shuffle of the deck.
In Some Way, Shape, or Form comes after three albums of the same genre, and it is a little different. Strikingly, it isn't as happy, and this is the first thing. Happy hardcore was a term once erroneously used to describe the sound of Four Year Strong's previous albums (the genre actually refers to a sort of electronic music), but it isn't a label appropriate for this record. The joy in the hooks seems diffuse to the point of absence. The guitar riffs don't bounce. The sound is similar to the closing eponymous track of Enemy of the World, only that song follows eleven others that put it into context and so the snarl in the delivery is softened. Opener of In Some Way, Shape or Form, 'The Infected', begins with a riff in which there is no apparent buoyancy. There is anger, and there is an aspect of addictive aggression, but it is not what we are used to. Consider also that there is no residual sugar in the bloodstream, here, and Four Year Strong sound very different.
The second thing is the melody. Previous efforts by the band have focused on this thread of the fabric more intently than any other, and here each song is structured very differently in that we see the sleight-of-hand will not even be attempted: there's a conservatism that Four Year Strong have avoided until now and the songs have taken the more rigid form the band eschewed so devoutly on their best tracks. Simply, the bounce and adrenaline of the Four Year Strong verse has seeped away. The surprise breakdown and the highlight harmony are put on the back-burner to be presented in more traditional places.
And this is the third thing, on a different tone. It is a shame to have to focus so heavily on what a band has lost when reviewing their material, but it was something that had to be tackled here before the rest could be addressed. It is give-and-take when you switch genres like this, and instead of being a dull album, the record redistributes its best bits in order to create an impression different to the band's previous work. Before, each song was a patchwork of the catchiest and the sweetest and the guiltiest; now, the entire album finds each song with tighter focus, and the album all together is the tapestry. The melodic highlight reel shines impressions of the chorus to 'The Infected'; the pre-chorus to 'The Security of the Familiar'; the bridge to 'Sweet Kerosene'; the swelling of 'Heaven Wasn't Built to Hold Me'; and the rest of the music is a blast of four guys on fire and vocal interplay that finally finds its sweet spot with David Bendeth's production. There is a new trick for Four Year Strong and it is something like the spark throughout an album that is inflated with a rocking confidence--that a band knows how to write a song, and they know what is appropriate for each genre.
If you ignore the failings of tracks such as the dull 'Just Drive' and the super-kitsch 'Unbreakable', In Some Way, Shape or Form has gained in equal measure to what it has lost. The spontaneity is certainly meeker and the flair faltering, but there is a reliability and a force to the bulk of the record so that it bulges with rock enough to really enjoy. Of course, a band that once had a level of freshness in their veins adopting a more driven, focused and familiar sound is suitably mourned, but we can't allow ourselves to make the mistake that so many Fairweather Fans (excuse the crudeness of the term) will: a band becoming less niche isn't tantamount to a band regressing. Opting for a broader sound is to commit to the challenge of creating a different kind of album where the quality has to be higher in order to stand out amongst the crowd. It can be a challenge set by a band to live up to their influences and do a tried and tested formula well.
The question, of course, is whether the quality of the record really does pass the test. Certainly, this is no masterpiece. Neither does it shine as brightly as the band's previous efforts, considering the saturation of the genre, (a precious stone's reflected light seems dimmer in a handful of gems). Instead, what we have here is a good, solid, rock album that's certainly worthy of Four Year Strong's song writing talents.
Sorry if this is a little long. I just wanted to get my thoughts out because I've been really enjoying this album.
I mostly agree with the staff review that was posted a while ago but there were some points where I disagreed enough to make writing this worth while. Most notably, I think Stuck In the Middle is the best song FYS have written and is a contender for my song of the year.