Photo Credit: Freddie Stisted
Surrey’s You Me At Six enjoyed modest commercial success in their home country during the late 2000s and early 2010s, with five Top 40 singles and two chart-topping albums to their name. If any mid-sized band should be set for a revival of fortunes, it should be this English quartet – whose pop-punk stylings are enjoying new commercial success with the revival. The problem is that the band seems almost too aware of this opportunity – and too eager to capitalize on it. So what should be a mature and confident pop-punk opus from a band with nearly two decades of experience in the genre, is instead often a hackneyed and awkward attempt at viral success. Otherwise, likable songs are bogged down by irrelevant cultural signifiers (The Matrix on “Deep Cuts”, Kamikaze on “No Future? Yeah Right”), while most of the songs prematurely reach for anthemic, TikTok-friendly choruses, blunting most of the story-telling potential.
“God Bless the ’90s Kids” is one of two lyrical nadirs; an empty and transparent attempt at evoking nostalgia that fails to evoke any warm recollections from the decade. Instead, the song is a mopey, backward-looking number (“God bless the ’90s kids, 21st-century misfits // We were the kings and queens of the underground”), whose often-mindless lyricism borders on the nonsensical (“I’m less than zero, but I’m your hero // I’m one of your five a day”).
The other nadir, “Ultraviolence” fails for the opposite reason – rather than being a desperate attempt at conjuring up ’90s nostalgia, it offers a stale attempt at diagnosing the various sicknesses of 21st-century society. The song attempts to paint a picture of a sex-obsessed, overly-online generation in need of therapy, but ultimately has nothing new to say – it’s just the band pointing at various societal ills and reminding us that they’re bad. The outro’s cries of “Ultraviolence // Kill the violence” read as nothing more than an unsuccessful last-minute attempt at upping the song’s stakes.
The band fare best when they don’t seem so eager to prove something to listeners. Album highlight “Mixed Emotions” has an easy-going charm – low stakes, high reward. It begins as a rock ballad with shades of adult-contemporary before transitioning into the album’s catchiest chorus. It’s sure to be an instant crowd-pleaser when You Me At Six performs this album live, and it’s proof that only when the band loosens up can they fully flex their song-crafting powers.