Four Year Strong

In Some Way, Shape, Or Form

Written by: PP on 11/01/2012 06:38:20

Wooo, a new Four Year Strong album. Can't wait for the mindless fun and catchy sing alongs that are superglued all across the album, it's going to be sick. That's the way your average Four Year Strong fan - yours truly included - used to receive the news that a new record was in the works. These days, the band has been around long enough for the anticipation to have been exchanged with mildly apathetic curiosity instead. That's just something that happens when a band has their breakthrough and is shoved down our collective throats from pretty much every direction. And with a breakthrough inevitably comes uncertainty about the future. Will the band stick to the working formula that made them succeed in the first place? Or will they feel the need to change to accommodate their sound for the bigger stages and a more mainstream crowd demographic? In other words, will they mature?

"In Some Way, Shape, Or Form", their fourth album, is that defining album for Four Year Strong, and they've chosen the often slippery slope of changing from their original sound because they felt the need to mature, as the band have stated in interviews around the release of the record. To start out with, they throw out keyboardist Josh Lyford, because they felt there was no room for synthesizers in Four Year Strong anymore.

Boy, does his absence affect the outcome of the album.

If you were waiting for those moments of fun-driven, infectious pop punk sing alongs with fading pop-hardcore undertones, bouncy gang shout sessions, melodic and high energy guitars, and of course the bright tones of the keyboards, they are nowhere to be found on this album. Instead, the band move into a harder edged, almost hardcore based alternative rock sound with screams and darker guitar tones overall. It's a far cry from the band's original repertoire, and resembles Sum 41's "Screaming Bloody Murder" more than Veara or Me Vs Hero, as they have done in the past.

It's a very similar career progression as indeed Sum 41's, or even the evolution into a more serious sound by Set Your Goals on their latest album. We all know how that went, and Four Year Strong face a similar problem on this album: in the process of trying to change from their roots and mature, they've lost their identity. "In Some Way, Shape, Or Form" has the sound of a band looking for what that mature might be that they needed, and as a result it comes across as an incohesive album that's all over the place stylistically.

The starting point has been a heavier, crunchier sound than in the past. It's almost borderline hardcore on songs like "The Infected" or "The Security Of The Familiar..." in the same way as Sum 41's "Screaming Bloody Murder" is borderline metal in places. To confuse their expression, roughly the other 50% of the album can be classified as heavy alternative rock. Pop punk is but an afterthought on a song or two throughout the disc.

And here's the problem: the hardcore songs sound like they need to prove something to someone to compensate for dropping the bright and catchy pop punk element almost altogether. Or maybe as a counter point to the rather typical major label mainstream rock stuff that they regress into on a couple of occasions, which are as bland as they are forgettable and uninteresting to fans of the band's older material. What's worse, they aren't even catchy in the slightest - and won't help push the band over the final barrier into arena sized stages.

The band is clearly at their best on tracks like "Stuck In The Middle", which has a strong pop punk leaning, and is perhaps the one song that recalls their older material the most. But even here, the band sound like a shadow of their fun-filled past. It's also the one track where it sounds like they're having lots of fun; elsewhere their expression feels forced and uninspired much in the same way as Story Of The Year's "The Black Swan" or "The Constant" did when they deliberately tried to force a hardcore expression to a band that was essentially a punk/post-hardcore band at heart.

Speaking of heart, that's exactly what's missing here as a whole. It's difficult to shake off the feeling that someone told them 'you're not allowed to do that' on more than just a couple of occasions during the writing and recording process. That would certainly explain why the hardcore-inspired sections sound like they do: boring, forced, and watered down. Could it be possible that Four Year Strong wrote an album too heavy and too aggressive for the tastes of the major label executives? I think that's a fairly likely scenario here. Well, that, or the band simply ran out of great songs after three albums. Whatever the real reason, "In Some Way, Shape, Or Form" is a prime example of why bands shouldn't try to change into something that they are clearly not. It's commendable that you want to try something new as long as you don't expect the rest of us to like it; this album in a nutshell.


Download: Stuck In The Middle, Fairweather Fan
For the fans of: Sum 41's "Screaming Bloody Murder", Set Your Goals' "Burning At Both Ends"
Listen: Soundcloud

Release date 08.11.2011
Decaydance / Universal Motown

In Some Way, Shape, or Form. by Four Year Strong

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