[22 January 2008]
PopMatters Music Reviews Editor
“So into the basement, and under the boards I’ll go”, Saves the Day’s lead singer Chris Conley croons on the first track of the band’s latest effort, Under the Boards. It’s a provocative suggestion that many loyal fans may shriek with fear at, while others, more notably fans of the New Jersey band’s earlier releases, may even encourage these days.
Long gone are the angst-driven, fast-paced cruel classics that rested so beautifully on the band’s widely inspiring Can’t Slow Down and Through Being Cool. These days, Conley and whatever group of friends he can find have either mellowed out or gotten bored with not only a scene, but an entire artform, changing their focus to experimenting with new sounds, rather than sitting in the same room, let alone building, as the songs that made Saves the Day a legendary band to any punk-rock kid that grew up in the late ‘90s.
It’s almost as if Saves the Day is playing the most antagonizing trick any emotionally driven, punk-rock influenced band has ever played. Knowing that they have produced albums in their earlier days that will forever be regarded as classics to certain kids, their effort to move further and further away from that sound has become heartbreaking to many. The trick lies in their knowledge that, for as long as they produce music, those heartbroken kids will continue to buy it, fleetingly hoping for another “Shoulder to the Wheel” or “The Choke”.
Alas, those kids’ hearts will again be broken with Under the Boards. According to the message board lovers, MySpace addicts, and even magazine articles, Saves the Day’s much-hyped sixth full-length effort featuring all new material was supposed to be the return to the sound that made Conley and his pals legends in many 20-somethings’ minds. Instead, Under the Boards is just another reminder that, yes, Conley’s voice has changed quite a bit over the last decade, and no, there seem to be no plans anywhere in the band’s future to swim deep into the past and revert back to their old tricks any time soon.
But that doesn’t mean Under the Boards is a bad record. It’s just not the fast-paced, under-produced magic that appeared early on in the band’s career. Songs like “Radio” and “Get Fucked Up” prove that Conley still has a better than average pop sensibility. Both tracks’ hooks prove to be accessible. They even peek into the band’s past by reminding the world how girl-crazy Conley is with a line like “But every time I think about you, I get fucked up” during the latter’s chorus.
His angst is still there, too. Along with the title track and songs like “Getaway”, where it feels like Conley’s suicide note has been written and his gun is cocked and loaded, and the Brian Wilson-esque “Bye Bye Baby”, where even the most candy-coated music is overshadowed by words that suggest permanent departure, at times Under the Boards feels like a final goodbye.
And that would be a shame, because while Under the Boards has its shiny moments, it certainly isn’t a good enough album to use as a swan song. Songs like “When I’m Not There” and “Woe” are alt-rock, out of place attempts at being something Conley has noticeably been aiming at for his last three records. On these two tracks, he comes up short once again, producing two tracks that are a much too blatant attempt at being something he and his band never was but always wanted to be.
That said, Under the Boards also features the best song Saves the Day has put on a record since “At Your Funeral”. “Can’t Stay the Same” is 2:48 of the most fun Conley has had in ages, making it not only the album’s best track, but a strong reminder that Saves the Day can still write a really good song.
And that’s encouraging. Because even though Under the Boards might not be exactly what fans want, it suggests that even if Saves the Day never returns to the style and innocence they were once so famous for, Chris Conley and his band of friends will always produce records with at least six or seven good reasons to pick it up. So while Under the Boards may not be Through Being Cool part deux, it’s still a solid effort from a man that will never be able to escape his past—no matter how fast he may try to run.