Photo Credit: Acacia Evans
For all the success that pop-punk has had in the charts in recent years – the genre’s standard-bearers generally haven’t fared so well. Green Day’s most recent full-length Father of All… was received poorly by fans and critics alike, as was Blink-182’s confused 2019 statement Nine. Even the genre’s most consistently compelling band, Paramore, enjoyed far more commercial success with 2017’s pop-positive After Laughter – and its lead single “Hard Times” – than they did with the rock-forward follow-up This Is Why.
For their part, Florida quartet Yellowcard – who enjoyed modest commercial success with 2003’s Ocean Avenue – are forging an understated comeback after a seven-year absence, primarily noted for a long-running feud with the late Juice Wrld’s estate. The best moments on their concise new EP Childhood Eyes benefit from a sense of low stakes – as the band strip down their sound to its essence and put newfound focus into their story-telling. Dashboard Confessional collaboration, “The Places We’ll Go,” succeeds as an acoustic slow-burn. Filled with longing and bittersweet nostalgia, it’s a number dedicated to those people whose charms we just can’t seem to shake despite our best efforts (“And I was still lying // To myself and everyone // But you were still somewhere // Deep in my heart”). An enduring sense of sincerity illuminates even the most simple imagery and rhymes (“At night as I sailed // I felt like I failed”).
Elsewhere, the band loses focus and finds their message confused and subsumed in an overbearing sonic palette. “Childhood Eyes” begins promisingly enough, with a plea for authentic feelings that contrast the band against a sea of pop-punk acts that preach nihilism and dysfunction (“Am I the only one // Who isn’t dead inside?”). But the song’s central message is undercut by Ryan Key’s most vindictive tendencies (“If only I was the drug you did…Then maybe you would have stuck around // Just like the addict you are.”) Meanwhile, simplistic religious imagery and the trite, titular metaphor of viewing the world through “childhood eyes” further dilute the central message. If Childhood Eyes suffers from one central fault, it is a lack of focus. Further indicative of this is “Hiding in The Light,” which registers as at least three songs in the campaign of one. Key employs a bratty speak-singing style which is ultimately incongruous with the song’s self-serious tone and brooding imagery.
“Honest From The Jump” and “Three Minutes More” demonstrate the EP’s greatest faults and strengths alternately. Both rely too heavily on compressed, imposing, and somewhat sanitized pop-punk stylings that anonymize the band and both suffer from a lack of focus in their first half – with clichéd imagery (“Cosmic colliding heart” and “So quick, some suns burn”) running up against tender memories (“One street corner kiss”) and condemnations (“You hold no love for anyone”) in a confounding blur. But both culminate in focused and compelling narratives in their second half. “Three Minutes More” speaks affectingly to the power of music, how our childhoods shape our adult selves, and the impact of all the mistakes we make along the way. “Honest For The Jump,” meanwhile, speaks to how once-pleasant memories are rendered bittersweet by the passage of time. Both are proof that with tighter focus and more innovative sonic choices, Yellowcard can still tell compelling stories. Let’s hope they realize this by the time their next album cycle rolls around.