I should preface this review by saying that I have been a huge fan of All Time Low for years. I am not ashamed of this either. I found out about them in late high school, and they mercilessly seduced my pop-punk sensibilities through catchy numbers like “Coffeeshop Soundtrack” and “Dear Maria Count Me In.” The latter of these actually just recently went gold, which is pretty impressive for a band that has been hovering on the brink of mainstream recognition for a few years. In fact, I have always been surprised that All Time Low isn’t more well-known among my peers. Maybe it’s because I refuse to stop listening to music I loved in high school while others left the teen anthems behind long ago, but I’m completely fine with that.
Digression aside, given my never-ending love affair with All Time Low and bands of the same vein, I was really excited when I heard a few months ago that they were going to release a new album. They were calling it Dirty Work, and I was hoping it would retain the catchy hooks of earlier years while still reflecting some growth and maturation as a band.
And then I heard the single.
Is this real life?
I don’t even know where to begin. I suppose I’ll start by saying the rest of the album isn’t much better. Dirty Work kicks off with “Do You Want Me (Dead?),” which is laced with unoriginal lines and underwhelming punch for a first track. Then comes “I Feel Like Dancin’,” the single mentioned above, which is actually co-written with Rivers Cuomo of Weezer. Between Cuomo, the band itself, and the fact that this is their first album with a major label, I don’t know who is at fault more for this musical nonsense. Regardless, it is a sadly pitiful attempt at mass appeal and falls laughably short of the earnest but energetic songwriting that made So Wrong, It’s Right so much fun. Lead singer Alex Gaskarth even mentions (not sure if he’s serious) in an interview that the song is “sort of a satire for everything that is top 40 right now.” Wait, really? Does Rivers know that or did you just throw him under the bus? Is the rest of the album a satire too? Isn’t the listener supposed to be able to tell it’s a satire without you explaining it to us?
Most of the remaining tracks are flat, forced, or painfully mediocre garbage. Songs mix middle school poetry like “‘Cause right now could last forever/Just as long as I’m with you” and “Shooting for the stars,/Desperately reaching for something in the dark,/Pictures of memories buried in my heart” with attempts at snarky personality (“And we’d laugh at all the douche-bag guys/Chasing down their desperate wives”). Nothing comes across as clever or genuine; the entire album feels corporate, overproduced, and fake. It’s not until the very last track, “Heroes,” that All Time Low gets anything right on this album. “Heroes” sounds very much like an homage to New Found Glory, the band from whom All Time Low derived its name, and it’s really the only track that doesn’t sound like part of a forced image change for the band. Ironically, the lyrics might be targeting fans who accuse All Time Low of selling out (“They’re gonna file me under latest nostalgia/Happily ever after”). Whether it’s a lyrical middle finger to these fans or an invitation for them to accept the direction the band has taken is open to interpretation, but if you wanted to say “Dear Alex Count Me Out,” I wouldn’t blame you.
Dirty Work is a glitzy 12-track CD with lots of production, no teeth, and little value. It is clear All Time Low wants to take its sound in a completely different direction, and from the video and lyrics above, it’s also clear that the band is hyper sensitive to the whole “selling out” thing. It has made them into a self-conscious quartet of people-pleasers, and it may earn them mass appeal at the expense of their core fan base. It’s a tremendous waste of a very talented band, but I guess I can always put on So Wrong It’s Right whenever high school nostalgia comes around.
There’s also a 15-track deluxe version if you’re interested.