All Time Low shows few signs of growth on album ‘Wake Up, Sunshine’

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Grade: 3.0/5.o

Coming back with its first album in three years, pop-punk all-star All Time Low is taking almost no chances on its new album, Wake Up, Sunshine. Released Friday, the latest record shows pop-punk sweetheart and lead vocalist Alex Gaskarth in the same place fans left him, even if the album’s beginning teases at something new.

The first song on Wake Up, Sunshine, “Some Kind of Disaster,” presents a sound that is unlike what the band has previously released on albums like 2017’s Last Young Renegade and 2015’s Future Hearts. With a slowly introduced drum and a reverbed vocal, this song intentionally and gently “wakes up” fans for the energetic listening experience ahead of them. Unique to this song, Gaskarth’s even vocal tones heavily emulate the power of Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong, a resemblance that’s especially prominent in the singer’s belts at the end of lyrical phrases.

“Some Kind of Disaster” proves to be one of the strongest songs on the album, which declines in freshness by the second track, “Sleeping In.” This follow-up was co-written with Dr. Luke, the infamous producer whom Kesha accused of sexual and emotional abuse in 2014. The case between Kesha and Dr. Luke has continued into 2020, and although this is the only song All Time Low and Dr. Luke collaborated on for Wake Up, Sunshine, the producer’s ongoing legal battles make his work on this album too close for comfort.

To the credit of the other artists who contributed to the song, “Sleeping In” paints a cozy picture of early morning Britney Spears listening sessions and lazily calling out of work. The song is a sweet recalling of stretched-out mornings, including the oh-so relatable lyrics “Postmates and dirty laundry.” At times, however, the vocal mixing doesn’t exactly hit its target, sounding disjointed with awkward echoes.

The production quality is highest on songs that feature other artists, such as “Monsters” featuring blackbear and “Favorite Place” featuring the Band CAMINO. On “Monsters,” Gaskarth’s vocals successfully meet the mark that the rest of Wake Up, Sunshine occasionally misses. Blackbear sounds pointed and controlled, resulting in one of the best songs on the record.

It becomes clear that one of the reasons these songs stand out so positively is that they offer something new: Featured vocalists ultimately bring a taste of originality that the rest of this release falls short of delivering.

Even though the band has been around for more than a decade, it’s hard to pinpoint any real moments of growth for All Time Low. The band released its best material before 2014, with a few gems on Future Hearts, but seemed to reach a plateau after riding those years of popularity. In short, All Time Low has been releasing the same material for more than a decade, and it’s difficult to grow when you’re never stretching too far away from home base. 

“Pretty Venom (Interlude)” is one of the newest-sounding songs the album has to offer. None of the band’s previous albums have included interludes or transitional tracks, but this song’s slowed-down nature and bare production introduce a new style that the band would benefit from exploring more. The quickly cascading melodies and abrupt drum entrances create an interesting contrast to Gaskarth’s sleepy vocals.

The originality continues and ends with “Safe,” which pulls and mixes inspiration from ’80s ballad styles and soft rock. The dynamics of the pre-chorus and bridge sections give the song an extra edge, diverting from the typical pop-punk style the band has always clung to. The songs on Wake Up, Sunshine that do hold true to this style aren’t bad, they just sound progressively more generic as the band stays stagnant. 

“Summer Daze (Seasons, Pt. 2),” for example, is a lighthearted track that will almost definitely be a hit at live shows. Listening to the album on shuffle at home, however, presents a different listening atmosphere that this album may not cater toward, as many of the songs blend together after several listens.

In terms of songwriting, production quality and instrumental performance, All Time Low is what All Time Low has always been. The album occasionally touches on more mature, vulnerable subjects, but the band still grips onto the ounces of goofiness that have characterized it since 2003. While the immaturity and laid-back attitude have always been endearing for the group, it’s getting tired. It’s time for All Time Low to try just a little bit harder to act its age.

Skylar De Paul is the deputy arts & entertainment editor. Contact her at [email protected]. Tweet her at @skylardepaul.