Marianas Trench

Astoria

Written by: TL on 15/11/2015 17:04:40

Before anyone else says it: Yes. You can indeed very legitimately question the relevance of a review of Marianas Trench here on Rockfreaks.net. Signed to Nickelback frontman Chad Kroeger's 604 Records and fronted by "Call Me Maybe" writer Josh Ramsay, the group may have been founded in the border area between pop-rock and pop-punk, but while the new album "Astoria" draws frequently on the band's Queen influence, a quick listen to any of the singles leaves no question that this band loves pop music and have all sails set towards elaborating their already lavish symph-pop adventures even further. We are coming up on the end of the year, however, and there is getting more space and time in between the crucial rock releases, and considering that both the two prior Marianas Trench releases that we reviewed, 2009's "Masterpiece Theatre" and 2011's "Ever After", have been excellent listens, it was hard not to dive into this one as well when it was sent our way. Hence here is a review, complete with the warning that if a POP(rock) review on this site is a thorn in your eye, it's better for you to look up another review than to read on.

The past two Marianas Trench records have been loose concept records, and as the title of the new one suggests, the group remains obsessed with "The Goonies" hometown, Astoria, referring to it often on an album that, true to the band's tradition, opens and closes with elaborate extended medley tracks that bloom and twist and turn with the group throwing everything and the kitchen sink in the mix. "Do you know everything happens, it happens in threes?" sings Ramsay, implying that we should prepare for a final chapter in a trilogy. But despite a generally cinematic feel and a sprinkling of small interlude tracks - among them a tip of the hat in form of "August Burns Red", to the metalcore group who incidentally have a song called "Marianas Trench" - the album's built-up drama never really translates into a sensible narrative, at least arguably less so than was the case on "Ever After", so fans shouldn't really come in looking for a Coheed And Cambria-type of "story" experience. Any connections tying one such together are simply too vague, and at seventeen tracks the album is also just too long to make you really feel like piecing together a bigger picture.

That said, however, Ramsay and his friends are treasure troves of charming musical references, which they put together with all the devilish infectiousness you would indeed expect from someone who was behind the infamous Carly Rae Jepsen breakthrough. Right after the opening title track, we get the album's most lethal injection of funk, as 'Trench channels Prince at his most hysterically danceable, while cheekily copying their influences' shameless vocal layering when invoking their name on the line "Just want a crescendo and a killer QUEEN!". It's the kind of song that is candyfloss laced with cocaine, disgustingly tasty and sure to put an abundance of bounce in your step.

The following "Yesterday" is great too, with the cowbells and keyboards that open it sounding like we're in for a copy of A-ha's "Take On Me", yet the drums and abrupt guitar chords soon make it sound more like something Kevin Bacon could've danced through a montage to back in "Footloose". The call and response with the choir, along with the synths and the unhinged, festive mood of the song in general, makes it sound like something Kenny Loggins or George Michael could've put together for a feel-good movie in the 80s. Later on, "Dearly Departed" sounds like something from Panic! At The Disco's "Pretty. Odd.", as Ramsay sings tenderly over simple ukulele chords, eventually bringing in strings followed by more masterful vocal layering, making for an amazing surge at the end of the song. And then there's "Who Do You Love", where more layering shenanigans combine with cinematic, booming drums to form a track that again sounds fitting as a soundtrack, this time for something like Disney's "Lion King" or "Tarzan".

Meanwhile, a song like "Shut Up And Kiss Me" is perhaps still equally catchy, and the love for old Jackson 5 hits is obvious, as is the increase in texture and maturity to Ramsay's otherwise often screechy voice. But where the best 'Trench songs have enough captivating energy and sense of adventure to them to distract the listener, this is one of the songs where you perhaps feel the poppiness get a little on the superficial side. The same can be said of the single "One Love" and the swooning "While We're Young", both of which retain the infectiousness, yet also sounds a bit like something Ramsay should maybe have rather sold to Katy Perry or The Black Eyed Peas. So while there's no point - even at Rockfreaks.net - in vilifying elements from pop-music, especially not in a Marianas Trench review, there is a point in observing what makes it worthwhile listening to them, as opposed to rolling your eyes through a Katy Perry album. And it's the madness. It's the utterly self-indulgent exuberance and the overblown sentimentality and imagination that have characterised most of the band's material, which make it sounds like these dudes do not simply write catchy pop-tunes, Ramsay also has things inside him that he is desperately bursting to get out.

"Astoria" is not a record as fully permeated by this feeling as "Ever After" or "Masterpiece Theatre" though. It's a more loose collection of, admittedly catchy, yet at times also superflous feeling pop numbers. It at times reminds you that Ramsay is a master of both songwriting, singing and production, and these moments come highly recommended for anyone who likes to dance when nobody's watching. But at other times the album does give you a bit of disappointment that it does not wrap up the "trilogy" into more of a wholesome cohesion. It's like the group has fully elaborated every idea they had for the record, but didn't quite diligently trim the fat and make sure everything fit perfectly together.

Download: Burning Up, Who Do You Love, Yesterday, Dearly Departed
For The Fans Of: Walk The Moon, Panic! At The Disco, Fall Out Boy
Listen: facebook.com/MarianasTrench

Release date 23.10.2015
604 / Cherrytree / Interscope

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