This is such a catchy album that my mum swapped out Seán McGowan for it in her car. But seriously, this is a very, very well done album.
With every new release from The Front Bottoms, I find myself resistant and having to remember that bands change and evolve as time progresses. The 2015 release of Back on Top left me very anti-BOT until I realised that actually, it was a very good album and that signing to Fueled By Ramen meant that their sound would be different to their releases with Bar/None Records or their self-released material.
This is exactly what happened with Going Grey. As it turned midnight on October 13th and became my favourite day of the week, New Music Friday, I spent that hour listening to the album in its entirety. I wasn’t sold, and from then listened to it a couple of times a week – I’ve now realised it’s actually a very good album and I need to stop going through this cycle every two-ish years when The Front Bottoms release a new material. Perhaps some of my disdain for the change is that yes, this is a more commercial album, likely to be more popular than their earlier work because it’s better produced and as a result, sounds nicer, and I’d quite like this band to still be my quiet bedroom discovery; a band I can see in The Joiners instead of big gig venues, but it’s only ever going to be a positive thing for them to be more commercially successful and known by more people as a result.
Now securely into their new recording home at Fueled By Ramen, Going Grey retains a very uniquely TFB sound, just a little more polished and experimental. Frontman Brian Sella’s vocals are still the main focus of each song, as they always have been, but they’re very clearly improved and alongside his regular style of “talk-singing” – he can now reach a wider range of notes and hold them better, a juxtaposition shown very well on ‘Grand Finale’. This is still very much a pop-punk record, but one that’s more sure of itself, a little more mature and not afraid to use softer melodies and some slower tempos, like during ‘Trampoline’ – a song that my mum had to point out is all about sex (“Sometimes when we’re together we’re not together/And sometimes, I try to fake it but you know me better”) however, I like to think it’s a testament to their writing skills that it isn’t blatantly obvious. This certainly isn’t their most energetic album, definitely not one I can see people stage diving during as is common at their shows, but it’s still full of catchy hooks like in ‘Bae’, or their commonplace horns in ‘Vacation Town’.
While the first half of the album retains a very classic TFB sound, almost a throwback to their self-produced work, in ‘Don’t Fill Up On Chips’, ‘Peace Sign’ and ‘Bae’, the latter half of the album is almost more electronic/pop twinged than classic pop punk. While The Front Bottoms have always been hard to categorise, it’s exciting to see them experimenting with different sounds, particularly in ‘Far Drive’ and ‘Everyone But You’. It feels like an album that appeals to every section of the band’s fans, from the original Brothers Can’t Be Friends and My Grandma Vs. Pneumonia days, to their big proper professional record label ones. They’ve moved on from writing about drugs and college, and yet songs from this album will very nicely sit alongside their older material in a tour setlist. And I think, perhaps, that’s what I love so much about this band and Going Grey. Was I expecting a song called “Bae” to begin with the lines “When you realise the crew you roll with/Is actually what makes you anxious”, and for those lines to be written in such a casual, slangy way? Absolutely not. Do I love that song and going from that revelation of a line to the casual chorus of “I gotta move my car/I gotta move your couch”? Absolutely yes. The way they pick out tiny, unnoticeable details, or rather, details unnoticeable to everyone except those in that specific situation, is always going to be what defines The Front Bottoms.
There are some very nice touches to the album, like the end of ‘Ocean’ and the start of ‘You Used To Say (Holy Fuck)’ (the album’s closer and opener) having the same oceanic sounds of waves and seagulls – perhaps it’s a testament to the sound of the album, in that it’s slower and more mature, softer, and it’s a big change from the stark, loud opening notes of the album’s predecessor ‘Motorcycle’.
It’s easy to miss their slightly manic, acoustically twangy self-produced music, but it’s exciting to see how much The Front Bottoms have changed in Going Grey, and how they’re simultaneously the closest to their roots than they’ve been since their self-titled album, and yet so much more progressed.
Going Grey is out now via Fueled by Ramen