Yellowcard – Ocean Avenue
Record Label: Capitol Records
Release Date: July 22nd 2003
”Nostalgic” records are always the hardest to review. At least that’s what I’ve found in the last five years or so of reviewing. They’re so difficult, because how on earth can you take a record that many hold dear and write about it without offending anyone? Well, of course, if the review is positive, that shouldn’t be a problem, but even so, it’s always a difficult task. This year, 2013, marks the 10 year anniversary of a lot of records, including Fall Out Boy’s Take This to Your Grave, Brand New’s Deja Entendu, Thrice’s The Artist In the Ambulance, The Movielife’s Forty Hour Train Back to Penn, and finally, Yellowcard’s Ocean Avenue. This record was considered to be the band’s “breakthrough” record, getting them into the minds and ears of the American public for a brief time in the early 00s. Ocean Avenue is the record that ultimately started it all, but aside from this album and 2012’s Southern Air, I’m personally not familiar with the band. I picked up Ocean Avenue last summer, but never really listened to it. When news of the band’s new “album,” Ocean Avenue Acoustic broke, I thought it would be time to listen to that record and the original record as well, back to back, just to see how they both stack up against one another. This won’t be a review for the acoustic version as well, but rather, I’ll just put my thoughts on the bottom, because there really isn’t a point in reviewing an acoustic version of a well-received record when I haven’t even reviewed the original yet.
Despite not being very familiar with Yellowcard, Ocean Avenue does a great job at making me comfortable with their brand of pop-punk, which encompasses elements of pop-rock, alternative, and pop-punk, all with the use of having a violinist in the band as well. Violinist Sean Mackin is the thing that keeps Yellowcard ahead of their peers, really; I’ve never heard of a pop-punk band having a violinist, and on paper, that sounds weird, but when in action, it works beautifully. They manage to blend both kinds of music perfectly, and Mackin ends up becoming a central part of the band. Without him, they would still be a solid pop-punk band, but the only thing that would separate them would be vocalist Ryan Key’s interesting vocals and lyrics. He’s not a great vocalist, but in terms of pop-punk, he’s one of the best in the genre, at least. His lyrics are always really hard-hitting as well. Granted, the early 00s was most likely the best era of pop-punk, because now, the genre is littered with bands who write nothing but lyrics about pizza, girls, and friends. Honestly, I love pizza, I like/hate girls, and I love my friends, but come on. Key’s lyrics are really interesting, though; dealing with everything from long-distance relationships (in fourth, seventh, and thirteenth tracks “Empty Apartments,” “Miles Apart,” and “Back Home), long lost loves (in the title track), and relationships with one’s father (fifth track “Life of a Salesman), among other things. While the lyrics do revolve around relationships for a majority of the record, it’s not all about how awful relationships are. It’s about the highs and lows of them, and reflecting on them.
Ultimately, aside from Mackin’s violin, Key’s lyrics are what set this record apart from its peers. I mentioned a bit ago that the band would still be quite solid without Mackin’s violin, but it’s also Key’s lyrics that play a huge part in this band. Honestly, without the lyrics, how could you really connect with this record? It’s really interesting, because I’m someone who hasn’t really gotten into this band so much, but these songs are still great. My favorite songs on the record, which are the most memorable to me, are the title track, fifth track “Life of a Salesman,” seventh track “Miles Apart,” and eighth track “Twentythree.” These songs really just hit me, whether it’s the lyrics or just the music itself. Of course, the whole record is great, but these songs stick out to me the most, and for good reason. I love the lyrics on these songs, and they show Key’s writing ability best of all. However, this isn’t a perfect record. No song is bad, and in fact, it’s all great, but it does get derivative sometimes. That’s not really the band’s fault, because pop-punk as a whole can drag on and be derivative. Thankfully, though, most people really don’t look at this record as a technical masterpiece, but rather, they look at it as a gateway for nostalgia. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t hold up on its own, because it certainly does, but because there are 13 songs on the record, clocking in at around 48 minutes, it can get rather dull slightly. That’s canceled out, really, by Mackin’s violin, though. His violin is really the main thing that does set this band apart, and for good reason. If that wasn’t there, I would still love this record, but who’s to say that they would even be as big and influential as they are today?
An acoustic version of the record was recently released, and that’s what ultimately made me listen to this record more, so I decided to listen to both records back to back to see what I thought about both of them. Well, I’m not sure if I like the acoustic version or the original more. The acoustic version of the record is a lot more stripped down, as it should be, but because of that, everything is much clearer, including Key’s vocals and Mackin’s violin. Both of these shine much, much more on this album than on the original, and for good reason. They didn’t make this record to cash in on the nostalgia, but because this record means so much to themselves, along with plenty of people. Some people, like a real good friend of mine, credit this record with getting them into music as a whole, and I can see why. The only real “problem” with the acoustic version I have isn’t the fact it’s a bad record, but honestly, it’s beautiful. The real problem I have with it, though, is just that it may not be for someone who’s not familiar with the band, obviously. I wouldn’t recommend it if you’ve never listened to Ocean Avenue. But it is interesting, because if I had never heard it, and listened to it, I would absolutely love it, and be interested in hearing the original. That may not be the case with everyone, though, so the average consumer may not be interested in it. Regardless, though, both versions are something to marvel at. And it’s amazing to see that ten years later, the original record still holds up, with the acoustic breathing some fresh air into the original.