Unlike the seemingly colorless scheme of Lights & Sounds, Yellowcard’s Paper Walls explodes from the get-go with the kind of energy and zeal that was all but lacking in its predecessor. Both Ocean Avenue and One For the Kids prompted greater things for the band- and it was because they sang and wrote songs about what they knew- love, heartbreak, growing up and moving out to find the better life. Perhaps it was just a matter of losing touch because Lights & Sounds, with all its fireworks and fancy concepts, could not muster the kind of shine they discovered in moving from the Jacksonville streets to the bright lights of Hollywood, sputtering rather, to a pretty lethargic conclusion. It is in glaring contrast to what they’ve done with Paper Walls however, as their latest effort is more than just a return to form, it’s a calling out to all the pop-punk naysayers who deem the genre too restrictive to be anything with both depth and mass appeal.
The band’s rejuvenation is clear from the start, as “The Takedown” and “Fighting” are some of the best up-tempo, melodically-charged songs Yellowcard have ever written; finding the balance between full-on guitar shredding (see rather bitchin’ solo on “The Takedown”) and the more accessible choral arrangements. Some of this newfound vitality should be attributed to the full arrival of ex-Staring Back member Ryan Mendez, who gets his first chance to contribute in-studio. The guy can flat-out play, and much of the guitar structures and songwriting is as effective as it is because of his collaboration with longtime songwriter and vocalist Ryan Key.
While Yellowcard are full-steam ahead on these faster paced numbers, they’ve always had a fondness for the mid-tempo ballad, the guitar-strewn acoustics and the melty, spring time affair- plenty of which, make up the better moments of Paper Walls. In “Keeper,” Key laments the all too real catastrophe that is love and romance; “I wanna love / I wanna leave / I want you to love me / I want you to leave me,” while the band string him along with similarly simple, melodic grace. The first single, “Light Up the Sky,” is the album’s centerpiece, a seemingly gentle ode to what Paper Walls is all about- cemented by radio-friendly choruses and an easy-to-repeat cadence of “Let me light up the sky / Light it up for you / Let me tell you why / I would die for you / Let me light up the sky.”
Yet unlike their more accessible numbers, the album’s two best songs are perhaps the most personal. In “Shadows and Regrets,” the acoustic-driven introduction is a precursor to the song’s tribute to youth and self-discovery, playing out to the backdrop of Sean Mackin’s melancholy sounding orchestral touches. The song’s mood is in contrast to “Dear Bobbie,” a song so sickly-sweet, even the most rigid of hearts will surely break. It’s deft acoustics and reflective nature, written for an elderly couple long in love and looking back at their lives, is reminiscent to One For the Kids standout, “Cigarette.” The song is an example of the band’s songwriting chops; that beneath the theatrics of high-energy riffs, trashing drums, and the radio ballad, Yellowcard can write the great tune.
However, some will find fault in the album’s high emotional outpouring- almost on high all the time, from its most personal in “Five Becomes Four” (a song that screams the parting shot at former member Ben Harper), to the aforementioned “Dear Bobbie” or the many love-themed tunes, as it can be criticized for being rather one-dimensional topically. Yet one needs only to listen to the over ambition of Lights & Sounds to realize that maybe Yellowcard are just doing what they do best, what they know. And it’s hard not to like something so good.
Stamp this one a 5-star effort because Paper Walls is the best the genre has seen in a very long time.