It was 2018 when pop-punk veterans All Time Low took a much-needed break after over a decade of hitting the pavement hard. It was warranted as any onlooker could see where the band was heading as they continued to run on fumes. Their 2017 full-length, Last Young Renegade, fell flat in the pop-punk group’s discography. They veered away from their sound to experiment heavily with the sonic landscape of the record, trying to tie it all together as a concept album. This, mixed with their leaving of home-bred label Hopeless Records to sign with Fueled by Ramen, created a body of work that didn’t quite connect. They went on to release a couple of one-off singles that felt more authentic to who All Time Low was, but the songs still didn’t feel as sturdy as they could be.
The group shortly found themselves taking a step back to do some musical soul-searching. All the members dabbled in projects, but it was frontman Alex Gaskarth and lead guitarist Jack Barakat that were most notable. Gaskarth teamed up with Blink 182’s Mark Hoppus to create an alt-electro duo titled Simple Creatures that found Gaskarth gleaming in a genre that he’d never journeyed down before. Barakat, on the other hand, helped in creating an infectious alt-pop side project, WhoHurtYou, that let the guitarist try to take songwriting by the horns. Fast forward to 2020, and it seems like the year of growth and musical recharge served its purpose as their comeback, Wake Up, Sunshine, feels like modern nostalgia of the culmination of the entire band’s discography.
The ninth studio album documents All Time Low at their best. Soon after rerecording 2009 record Nothing Personal for the 10-year-anniversary last year, it felt like a vessel for jumpstarting much of the sound that is jam-packed in Wake Up, Sunshine. The record also couldn’t have come at a better time. With the state of global isolation, the pop-punk scene needed some familiarity to help distract them from the foreseeable future. The pop-punk scene needed a new All Time Low record. And, they delivered, as their April 3rd release was chalked full of the fizzy, poppy-punk anthems that the group does so well. Bursting at the seams with that top-down, screaming loud sound that dominated their earlier works, it’s a refreshing reminder of the powerhouse that All Time Low is when they get it right. Wake Up, Sunshine isn’t just a return to their roots musically, but it is a return to the themes of young love and the ever-chasing-youth that has always been their sweet spot.
Running down the pre-album singles that were released, it’s opener “Some Kind of Disaster” and “Sleeping In” that pack the biggest punch. Playing to their strengths, they both reminiscence on the group’s biggest influences- Green Day and Blink-182. “Some Kind of Disaster” rides a feverish chorus, amplifying the electric rollercoaster that is found in any Green Day great. “Sleeping In,” though, pushes with heavy, roaring drums and fun melodic vocals while including a pop culture reference with, “If I said I want your body, would you hold it against me? Seven in the morning while I listen to Britney” that oozes with early 2000’s Blink.
Surprisingly, the title track is a strong effort for the record. “Wake Up, Sunshine” is anything but a corny relief as it falls more into the category of self-love that could be the elevated sister of Future Heart’s “Missing You.” A genius play by Gaskarth here to provide a more laidback surf-rock sound as the song sits confidently in the middle of the record- the perfect break in between. The track bleeds into “Monsters” featuring Blackbear, which is one of the two features that is found on the album. Dabbling in the more experimental, this slick, electro-rap/rock blend feels more at home on Last Young Renegade than it does here, but it still offers a decent performance regardless of how fast it fades from memory. The other collaboration, “Favorite Place” featuring The Band Camino, braces the storm much better. It is a golden, uplifting tune that becomes an earworm as soon as one hears the infectious, booming chorus even though the lyrics focus on the downturn of distanced love.
Elsewhere on the record, “Safe” is an addictive slow-burn that soars with a guitar-charged chorus that would be done a disservice if it isn’t listened to speeding down a highway with friends, “Glitter and Crimson” displays a stunning vocal from Gaskarth at its bridge while “Clumsy” is another highlight that could be easily slotted into a modern day So Wrong it’s Right. The soundscape plays off the grit of Don’t Panic while Gaskarth’s vocals mimic that of early All Time Low. It acts as a time machine for any long-time fan who is always just looking for something nostalgic.
The spotlight of the record, though, must be handed to the heartfelt closer, “Basement Noise.” Arguably the most impactful closing track from any All Time Low record, the song is a sentimental ode to the band’s origin story- documenting how they started playing in the basement of drummer Rian Dawson’s house back in high school. Most songs that relate back to an artist’s roots can come across stale and generic, but one doesn’t find that here. Featuring Gaskarth’s best lyricism of the record, “Basement Noise” is a seamless recollection of memories and nostalgia packed into a musical shoebox. It’s poetic. It’s raw. It’s real. And, it ties in everything the band has transformed into 15 years later.
Gaskarth’s lyrical prowess, though, doesn’t begin and end with “Basement Noise.” Instead, one sees the peaks of Gaskarth’s creative writing and ever so beloved metaphors and synonyms that dominated earlier works like Dirty Work and Don’t Panic all throughout. With lyrics like, “Alive in the age of outrage and outrageous behavior. They say it’s a calling. Are you living well in living hell?” in the title track, the evocative, “Turned the desert all to glass. Dropping bombs on future’s past. Nothing’s left for us, shadows dancing in the ash” that tumbles from “Clumsy,” the wordplay, “Serendipity and summer showers. We soak it up like flowers growing through the concrete, but nothing gold can stay” hummed in “Summer Daze,” or the thought-provoking, “How long can we be happy if happy ain’t good for us? ‘Cause being less ain’t good enough. But, being us feels good to us” that dominates “Glitter in Crimson” it is obvious that Gaskarth has rediscovered his lyrical groove.
Wake Up, Sunshine is a timestamp moment for a group like All Time Low. While it does revisit certain themes that have revolved around the group’s discography, there is a newfound fond that feels refreshing for the group to explore in deeper thought. One gets the sense of nostalgia that radiates from the record, but it’s a modern feeling of growing up and self-discovery that catapults the band forward instead of just recreating their past. It gives that fuzzy comfort of brighter days and hazy adolescence that has always gravitated fans to All Time Low’s sound. Wake Up, Sunshine feels like the sun cascading onto your face, and in these gloomy times, that is exactly what we need from music. This is definitely an album that will make others remember why they fell in love with the band in the first place.
author: Hope Ankley