An album to remember:
“Common Courtesy” provides nostalgic, albeit derivative soundscape
I was 16 once: angst-ridden, hopelessly romantic and wrapped up in a Tumblr blog. I had just moved from Michigan to Northern Virginia and felt my contribution to the world of umpteen identical town-house complexes and frozen yogurt joints was best spent holed up with an iMac and an unhealthy dose of hormones.
No record accompanied my long nights adding pages to my digital diary more often than A Day to Remember’s brilliant “What Separates Me From You.” It’s half paint-by-numbers metalcore, half incredibly well-done pop-punk, and the combination served as the ideal soundtrack for my formative years. Its multifaceted sonic landscape made its way into my headphones during caffeine-flooded bouts with an AP Psychology textbook and during the overwrought drama of a breakup. I owe a lot to this album, and A Day to Remember fans owe a lot to its follow-up.
I realize that Victory Records is responsible for some of the most prolific discs on the scene (Taking Back Sunday’s “Tell All Your Friends,” for example) but the label is a human-resources nightmare, and it’s a miracle A Day to Remember’s most recent album happened at all.
The band found itself tangled in a messy lawsuit, desperately strapped for cash and, eventually, emerged victorious. “Common Courtesy,” the Hot Topic crowd’s answer to Guns n’ Roses’ “Chinese Democracy” arrived online last Tuesday after Victory’s furious efforts to halt its release. Though it’s two years removed from the context of why the last album hit home, “Common Courtesy” thrusts me right back into those memories without breaking any new aural ground.
“This is our corner of the world,” vocalist Jeremy McKinnon asserts on opener “City of Ocala.” It’s only, like, the 60th time the group has referenced its hometown in chorus-verse form, but with a sound not far removed from pop-punk progenitors New Found Glory and a chorus ripe for live shows, I’ll allow one more instance. The action coalesces with lead single “Right Back At It Again,” a call back to the lighter, early-2000s vibe explored on the group’s breakout LP “Homesick.” There are elements of ADTR’s heavier side here, but the introduction of two acapella-grade sections — no, seriously — brings us back to the band’s fine-tuned pop sensibilities.
“Common Courtesy” exudes a more natural feel than its predecessors. Studio outtakes and banter bookend many tracks, and the lead-in to “Sometimes You’re the Hammer, Sometimes You’re the Nail” sets up a song that serves as a user’s guide to the band’s formula of marrying the roughness of metalcore and the sugar-coated earnestness of pop-punk. The bridge has lyrics primed for a new band tee: “I want to be a better person / I wanna know the master plan / Cast your stones, cast your judgment / You don’t make me who I am.”
Well, that’s good no one else molds A Day to Remember’s mission, because “Dead & Buried” finds the band flaunting its musical playbook once again. The formula has definitely been milked, but tracks like the potential crossover hit “Best of Me” and the balladry explored on the outstanding “I’m Already Gone,” offset the repetition. As for the aforementioned acoustic number: it may be littered with lyrical cliches, but its layered guitar and vocal interplay remind me why this band served me so valiantly in high school.
The comfort of acoustic guitar is swapped for the hard-edged grit of “Violence (Enough is Enough).” Powerful screams trade off with clean vocals in textbook fashion, the lyrics are standard ADTR bravado (“What’s the world gonna say when I call your bluff, punk?”), and the overall theme is mighty preachy for a band previously bent on defaming ex-girlfriends. “Life @ 11” exhibits one of the strangest titles on the track listing, but its tone, down to the bridge that calls to mind the worst of the active rock format, is nothing new. “I Surrender” continues this foray into becoming the next Three Days Grace, with a musical agenda more akin to Kidz Bop than opening for Killswitch Engage.
On every A Day to Remember record, there’s one two-minute “pit starter,” a display of unbridled rage that flexes the band’s love for heavier music. “Life Lessons Learned the Hard Way” is 2013’s answer to 2010’s “2nd Sucks” — and actually carries over a muddier version of the same riff and breakdown. It’s rad, though. I’ll excuse the self-plagiarism. “End of Me” (which sounds like late Linkin Park more than anything else) continues the band’s desire to jump out of its comfort zone, but like many tracks before it, it waxes more pathetic than poetic.
A Day to Remember is no Kendrick Lamar, but “The Document Speaks for Itself” is an honest-to-goodness diss track, pointed at the forehead of Victory Records’ Tony Brummel. “I just wanted things to be alright,” McKinnon pleads over a heaping of power chords. With a page ripped out of the band’s last LP, “Document” isn’t just alright; it brands the band as an honest one after many contrived attempts earlier on. Google the alternate version and you’ll hear a nasty voicemail from Brummel himself opening the track. It’s gnarly.
The last two LPs from ADTR have been hailed for the strength of their final words. The nine-minute “I Remember” sounds excessive on paper, but the track closes out with the band relaying its favorite memories as a group. As for the music itself, it sets up the nostalgia that closes the album well, with lyrics that reference the hardships of a touring band and a slower instrumental section to heighten the drama.
Three years in the making, “Common Courtesy” is the album that A Day to Remember set out to create. It’s at times incredibly derivative, others botched in its experimentation — but it’s a love letter to the rest of the group’s discography and the fans that supported the crew through it all. I grew up with this band, and I can’t wait to continue.