Photo Credit: Lupe Bustos
On the track “Get Out of My Head” from their seventh album Brain pain, Worchester, Massachusetts band Four Year Strong sing: “You want me to burn out but I’d rather fade away.” It takes more than just a bit of chutzpah to paraphrase a lyric (“It’s better to burn out than to fade away”) with so much genuine importance in rock history, first appearing in Neil Young’s 1979 classic “My My Hey Hey (Out of the Blue)” and later being quoted by Kurt Cobain in his suicide note in 1994 (then again, Panic! At the Disco did quote the line in their song “Nicotine”). However, there’s not much else on Brain Pain that will shock or surprise many people, at least not ones familiar with the whole ever-present pop punk/hardcore hybrid genre.
Opening cut “It’s Cool” is just that – relatively – with its speed metal into which if nothing else is an attention-grabber, while the aforementioned “Get Out of My Head” is based around another strong guitar riff (the Neil Young and Nirvana connections might not be that crazy after all). “Seventeen”, a heartfelt nod to personal nostalgia opens with a great stomping beat before displaying a strong pop sensibility, an unexpected mellow break and some lyrics that are both clever and surprisingly thought-provoking (“We could have it all // Just another social cannibal // Searching through the rotten youth // For one more scrap left on the bone”). Anyone who’s actually older than seventeen should be able to relate.
But generally speaking, the first two-thirds of Brain Pain hold more-or-less the same musical and thematic note, so much so that the appearance of acoustic guitar at the beginning of “Be Good When I’m Gone” nine tracks in may have some listeners checking their streaming service to make sure they’re still playing the same album. They are, although it’s anyone’s guess why Brain Pain waits until the third act to show that Four Year Strong is capable of some variety in their sound. “Be Good When I’m Gone” goes from that acoustic into a terrific mid-tempo britpop melody with a string section (most likely a synth, but whatever) and a groovy quasi-Beatles psychedelic instrumental break.
“The Worst Part About Me” kind of reverts back, with it’s opening machine gun guitar, while “Usefully Useless” revolves around a riff which calls to mind the indispensable bassline on the Breeders’ 1993 classic “Cannonball”, which alone earns the Four Year Strong song a pass. On the subject of the Nineties, “Young at Heart” is a solid and fittingly grandiose album-closer, as sort of tribute to classic grunge that also includes musical nods to Nine Inch Nails and the aforementioned Beatles.
On “Talking Myself in Circles” the band sings: “I keep repeating the same thing without any meaning.” While it’s unlikely these lyrics will ever end up as quoted, paraphrased or analyzed as the Neil Young line, in describing much of this album it’s sadly a bit too on-the-nose. On Brain Pain Four Year Strong does prove that they’ve got more than their share of the former, but some parts of the album might prove to be a bit of the latter for more discriminating listeners, even within fans of this genre.