The Front Bottoms are 'Back On Top' with new album
I remember the shock of listening to The Front Bottoms for the first time because of how honest they are and how personal each of their songs feel. The band manage to create a light and happy-go-lucky sound despite the incongruously dark, often viciously self-deprecating lyrics of the lead singer Brian Sella. The mismatch should not work, because it definitely does not work on paper. Plus Sella isn’t a particularly amazing singer, yet the raw and unrefined nature of his voice reflects the brazen honesty of his lyrics.
The emotion that The Front Bottoms communicate, combined with how fun they are to listen to, mean that they soon cultivated a loyal fan base from across the punk, emo and folk genres they transcend. Having released their previous albums and EPs under the local New Jersey label Bar/None Records, fans of the band might perhaps have feared that the unembellished essence of what makes the band so captivating might alter in any way under their new New York label Fueled By Ramen. New album Back On Top quashes such fears in one swift, singalong swoop. This album is more electric, with less use of the acoustic guitar than in previous records. Also, Sella’s voice is admittedly annoyingly more polished than you would think natural in certain songs. Yet ultimately, the ability to produce raucous anthems with beautifully sincere lyrics has not been lost.
For instance, Back On Top immediately begins well with catchy song ‘Motorcycle’, which includes the refrain: ‘Sometimes you gotta close your eyes/To truly see the light’. This lyric, as well as the image of the motorcycle in question is repeated in what seems like a bigger continuation a few songs later in ‘Laugh Till I Cry’. ‘Help’ contains powerful lyrics, as Sella explores the feeling of being in a spiral of negativity and helplessness (‘I’m always focusing on the wrong things (Help)/And then the wrong things become everything (Help)’), and the need to soldier on despite it all (‘This is what I want motherfucker make it happen for me’). ‘Historic Cemetery’ features an interestingly smooth rap outro from featured New Jersey rapper GDP, who spits lackadaisically over a simple piano melody: ‘You get scared…you’ll never find anyone else/So you find one and tell her things you’re dying to tell’.
Standout track ‘The Plan (F**k Jobs)’ is a typical The Front Bottoms song, combining clever lyrics (‘My body is a temple/How much you think I could get for it’) with an array of effects including hand claps, keyboards, horns, steel drums. All of this culminates in a huge rock outro whilst the refrain, ‘When my mind is uncertain/My body decides’, reverberates over the top. Another notable track is the mosh-inducing ‘West Virginia’. Here Sella laments a heartbreak ‘love of my life, gone forever’, then the feeling of being ‘hell bent on self-destruction’ afterwards and contains several killer guitar solos.
At certain points such as on songs ‘2YL’ and ‘Summer Shandy’ the lyrical content leaves something to be desired in that of their cheesy nature, for instance: ‘take me up and up like a ladder’ and ‘I got them bad boy blues baby’. Yet the tracks are saved for their sheer catchiness, and the instrumentals incorporated of the use of horns on the former and guitar solos on the latter.
The closer ‘Plastic Flowers’ is as close to perfect as it gets as an end of an album. Positivity is present in the embracing of the unknown: ‘I believe that someone, some where’s got a plan for me/…Even if I don’t know it yet’ and an acceptance of the inevitability of trauma: ‘We are all eventually/Either the victims or the victim’s family’. The tension builds until Sella breaks it himself with a genuinely funny spoken word monologue, and then a fitting return to a euphoric singalong in what’s left of the album.
Back On Top is a progression in terms of better production. In some ways this is also a regression away from their former DIY selves, but other innovations, ideas and experimentations such as the speech in Plastic Flowers and the rap in Historic Cemetery are the upside. Another lyric from the past is applicable here. ‘Be Nice to Me’ off of the last EP, Rose: ‘You say I'm changing/Sorry I didn't know I had to stay the same’. Back On Top may perhaps annoy diehard fans at points, but it’s still them. Listen to ‘Back on Top’, listen to it again, and then struggle to get it out of your head.