For their fifth album, Sound the Alarm, Saves the Day return to indie-punk imprint Vagrant, which conveys both cred (the label’s home to the Futureheads, Eels) and not much (it’s also home to Dashboard Confessional). But then, Vagrant’s a better home for an indie emo band than Dreamworks, by any measure. In fact, Vagrant label-mates Alkaline Trio may provide the ideal career trajectory for the no longer flash-in-the-pan New Jersey band -– to achieve some measure of wider recognition without sacrificing a characteristic sound. In Alkaline Trio’s case it’s this dark, alcoholic-industrial violence-wrapped melodic punk. For Saves the Day, it could have been intelligent, emotional emo-punk. Instead, we’re given thirteen songs that, for all their bluster, hardly make any impression at all.
The album opens faultlessly enough. “Head for the Hills” is a melodic but heavy anthem, full of self-destruction. Trouble is, compared to Alkaline Trio’s drunken violence, Saves the Day come off as cartoonish. Compare: “Cut off my legs when you tell me to walk / Slit my own throat when you say to talk” with “I took a hammer and two nails to my eardrums long ago . . . Mr. Chainsaw came and took my legs a long, long time ago”. Whereas “Mr. Chainsaw” avoids cliché and then makes the explanation (in the last lines of the song) exquisitely clear, Saves the Day never rise above self-pity. And growing pains we can all relate to; self-pity much less so.
Unfortunately, the aggressive guitars and Chris Conley’s weedy-thin voice soon wear, er, thin. And influences are almost as prosaic as the lyrical clichés: the Stooges, the Pixies. Among more contemporary bands in the same genre, Lawrence Arms are harder; Matchbook Romance has the same disgusted, soaring voice, a more Muse-like anthemic quality. By the time we reach the title track, you find yourself wishing that the band would show some shred of originality –- at least throw in a measure with only three beats or something to throw us off.
In general, the more aggressive songs work best. “Dying Day” is like a classic Pennywise tune: melodic, without the over-produced sheen of latter-day Blink 182 or Green Day. But for every “Dying Day”, there’s a “34”, a pedestrian emo tune with heavy guitar accents on each word in the chorus -– the kind of amateur single that doesn’t quite make it on MTV2.
And then there’s the . . . don’t get me started on the obligatory softer ballad. Oh, all right then. Wait, lyrics –- “There must be something wrong with me”? Please. The song’s called “I Don’t Know Why”, but here’s the real question: why does self-indulgent self-molestation excite sympathy among self-absorbed teenagers? I don’t know why. Really, this kind of trash is the modern equivalent of Roger Whittaker (the British singer, songwriter, guitarist, and whistler, his website says). “I Don’t Know Why” is just that -– easy listening for the Hot Topic set.
Saves the Day have given their fans nothing exciting, innovative, or new. Bridging the commercial melodic punk of In Reverie and the harder sound of their early records, the band has found the statement of bile without the bite. The final song on the record, “Hell Is Here”, opens with a promise of something different: a ‘70s hard rock guitar jangle –- you know, the kind of intro Wolfmother’s working hard to perfect. But it just settles right back to the album’s all too familiar sound. And Saves the Day’s final thought -– that “everyone you know will someday die” –- is so prosaic you almost feel pity for them. Almost . . . if the music only was not so ordinary.