Review: Four Year Strong – Explains It All

“It’s not big and it’s not clever.”

We’ve all been told this numerous times, usually along with a disapproving speech following from some utterly inane and peculiar act of nonsense we’ve just committed. However, my response to this has always been: “No, but it’s fun,” and what’s true for life more often than not proves to be true for music as well. Bands like All Time Low and Mayday Parade are as disposable and lacking in insight as music can possibly get, but goddamn they’re fun to listen to. And sing to. And after a few drinks dance like a maniac to. The pinnacle of this sensation has always been the cover album. Two years ago it was New Found Glory with From the Screen to Your Stereo – Part II and now Four Year Strong are taking some time to entertain us, with this collection of covers of tracks from the ’90s (bar one sneaking in from the new millenium). I was discussing this album with a friend of mine, and she mentioned that the album felt uninspired to her. Now maybe I’ve not got the highest expectations, but when it comes to a covers album, I’m really not expecting to be inspired. I’m expecting a little bit of fun from a band playing around with some of their favourite songs from their youth, often just acting as a stop-gap because the new album is taking a little longer to write than you’d expect. In all fairness to my friend, she’s right. Anyone who likes their music full of subtle melodic layering, and deep poetic lyrics would do well to steer well clear of this release, but to be honest, I doubt many of those people will rank Four Year Strong particularly highly as a band anyway.

The covers themsleves are an interesting choice. Rather than go for the usual pop staples like Fall Out Boy, New Found Glory and so many bands before them, Explains It All instead chooses to aim for the more alternative selection, and as such, many of the originals may not be as well known. When I first saw the tracklist a few months ago I remember thinking I’d only heard of three of the songs: Alanis Morisette’s “Ironic,” Nirvana’s “In Bloom” and No Doubt’s “Spiderwebs” but Four Year Strong have pulled off the age old trick of picking all those ones you knew but you never knew you knew. Third-Eye Blind’s “Semi-Charmed Life” and “Absolutely (Story of a Girl) by Nine Days both leapt immediately back into my brain, and I could have sworn I didn’t know a single Del Amitri song until “Roll to Me” rolled along. Thankfully, for the most part, Four Year Strong have managed to succeed in keeping the spirit of the originals while staying true to their own sound. The slow intro to “Ironic” bounds effortlessly into a breathless chorus and second verse in true double-bass-pedal glory, while “In Bloom” sounds so much fuller than it ever did before.

The difficulty with any covers album is that inevitably not all of the songs are going to appeal to everyone. Even picking a genre of similar artists, each and every song will be picked upon by someone. From a personal perspective, my dislike of The Smashing Pumpkins means I could do without “Bullet with Butterfly Wings,” and although I’ve never heard the original, “She Really Loved You” comes across as dull and generic. Similarly, some of the songs aren’t really suited for a Four Year Strong style cover, “Bullet with Butterfly Wings” being a prime example. “Fly” is also very nearly ruined by the ever-irritating Travis McCoy, and in truth, barely holds up in this new style, and “So Much for the Afterglow” comes across as much more derivative than it truly is. However, these few songs are offset by the remaining majority, which are fun, fast-paced and simple.

The strengths of the original songs have been maintained in the new versions here, but herein lies some of the difficulty. The only change that Four Year Strong have really made is generally to up the tempo. In some instances that’s enough – I never really liked “In Bloom” or “Spiderwebs,” but here they propelled into your ear-drums with such fury that the lifelessness of the original is soon forgotten. In general though, the similarity of the songs is stark, suggesting a worrying lack of creativity in the construction of the covers. This in itself is not necessarily a bad thing. As stated above, the point of this album is as a bit of fun. There will be no support slot for Radiohead following this album (a fact which I’m sure will delight fans of both bands) and Conor Oberst is unlikely to come calling for tips on his lyrical content. Not everyone will like this album, and those that do won’t find themselves listening to it non-stop. However, when you’re in the right mood at the right time, you find yourself realising Four Year Strong have crafted 40 minutes of near consistent enthusiasm which can’t help but bring a smile to your face. So no, Explains It All may not be big, and it may not be clever, but it’s so much fun to listen to it really doesn’t matter.

Final verdict: 7.5/10

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