It’s been done before: band of underdogs releases major label debut; band hits TRL and the top of the charts; band promises a “more mature” and “harder” follow-up to their poppy breakthrough disc. Unlike the products of similar bands, Yellowcard’s latest actually is more grown up and more ambitious. Lights and Sounds is also glossier, and “edgier” in an MTV kind of way. The band members now dress in black, but at the same time, Yellowcard still won’t offend your mother or scare off your teenybopper cousin. And, although the songs are a musical improvement, nothing on this album is particularly interesting or memorable.
First single “Lights and Sounds” is powerful, raucous and catchy, but it is a poor indicator of the band’s new direction. The rest of the album oscillates between radio-ready rockers (“Sure Thing Falling”) and slower, more thoughtful ballads (“Waiting Game”). Yellowcard attempts to catch the listener off-guard with Lights and Sounds, but orchestral flourishes, political statements and metaphorical characters (the album centers around “Holly Wood”) aren’t all that unexpected when everyone from Green Day to Good Charlotte is experimenting with them too. “Space Travel” tries to be epic but only bores the listener; “Two Weeks From Twenty” is politically charged but dragged down by both trumpets and a lack of subtlety. An exception is the surprisingly strong “How I Go,” an unlikely duet between vocalist Ryan Key and the Dixie Chicks’ Natalie Maines that soars.
While the new songs are tighter and punchier, a few listens prove that something is missing. Yellowcard was successful because of the way its members came together, each adding something that made the band different from the scores of other pop-punk bands. After the departure of guitarist and fan favorite Ben Harper, the other members have stepped into the background and Key has become the focus of the band. There are many reasons why this doesn’t work, but most of the blame can be placed on the album’s impersonal nature. On Lights and Sounds, Key speaks not as himself, but through his characters and metaphors. Much of the band’s ability to speak to its listeners is lost in this transition.
Ocean Avenue was a hit because it’s relatable; it can take you back to another place. This album, however, is forgettable because it lacks the heart of its predecessor. Without its signature earnestness and uplifting energy, Yellowcard flounders and fails. In the end, Lights and Sounds earns the band the ultimate yellow card- because being a bummer is almost as much of a party foul as spilling Bacardi on your roommate’s laptop.