The Front Bottoms – In Sickness and In Flames (Fuelled By Ramen)
New Jersey pop-punk duo get surprisingly serious on their seventh album. Louder Than War’s Dave Beech reviews.
The criticism most often levelled at New Jersey folk-punk duo The Front Bottoms, is that their sense of humour and lyricism come across as juvenile. One only needs look at the name to see that where such critics are coming from. Agreeing with them wholly however would be missing both the point, and the charm, of the band.
Over the course of six albums, The Front Bottoms have mined a particular vein of twenty-something angst, something that in world’s current social climate is continuing long into our thirties. These feelings of arrested development, emotional or otherwise, aren’t just understood by the band, but felt by them too. And while the lyricism may come across as juvenile, it’s also universal, cathartic and most importantly, bloody good fun.
The band’s seventh In Sickness and In Flames is no different. An ode to the overthinkers, to those of us racked with anxiety, and those of us with a propensity for shooting ourselves in the foot, it’s an album that feels like business as usual for The Front Bottoms. Almost. Though cursory listens might well reveal the record as just another Front Bottoms album, scratch beneath its effortlessly polished surface and you’ll find arguably their most fleshed out and confident release to date.
First track Everyone Blooms is the optimistic call to arms we could all do with hearing at the moment; a welcome opening embrace and a reminder that it’s okay to move at your own speed. Elsewhere both Montgomery Forever and Fairbanks, Alaska fizz with a youthful optimism, yet bristle with the band’s trademark self-deprecation. It’s not just the singles in which In Sickness and In Flames soars, however.
Leaf Pile offers up a more angular, riff-heavy side than one might expect, though still harbouring a typically tender middle section, while following track New Song D is darker and more sombre than anything they’ve done before, though still retaining the expected Front Bottoms’ charm.
Perhaps what’s most noticeable is the departure of Gong Grey producer Nick Furlong, taking with him synths that populated the 2017 album. Their inclusion was a risk, and something that irked some fans so keeping them to the bare minimum here was a wise move on the part of new producer Mike Sapone.
Indeed, Sapone hasn’t so much has provided the band with a new lease of life on this record, but he has sharpened the edges and filled in the gaps. As such In Sickness and In Flames is a bold, brash album that paradoxically deals with anxiety and vulnerability in a way that feels fresh. And while The Front Bottoms weren’t quite in danger of stagnating, their detractors were getting louder, In Sickness and In Flames should be the record to dampen their voices, at least for a little while.
Dave Beech is a music writer based out of Manchester. He writes and edits for a number of different websites and links to his work can be found over at his blog, Life’s A Beech, as well as his Louder Than War author’s archive. He also tweets as @Dave__Beech.