“We live in a time bomb that’s ticking down” begins the lead single “Just Drive” off Four Year Strong’s fourth album (and second in 18 months) In Some Way, Shape, Or Form and it can easily be seen as a comment on the lifespan of hardcore (emo-core, whatever you want to call it) bands as it could be seen as anything else. Glassjaw disappeared for half a decade, and Brand New and Thrice never lived up to the worlds of both commercial and creative potential behind their initial albums. Is there a real flag-bearer for the genre at the moment? It would seem that a lot of people are backing the Worcester, Mass., quartet (after the departure of keyboard whiz Josh Lyford earlier this year) as hardcore’s “Next Big Thing”.
Four Year Strong are a lovable, fun bunch from Massachusetts that had early success by mixing just as much enjoyable sing-a-long to counter-balance the often off-putting, nonsensical screaming. They were making music as if to say, “We’re just blowing off steam, now let’s have a little fun”.
Sadly, it appears they forgot the second half of that equation on In Some Way, Shape, Or Form recorded earlier this year in New Jersey with producer David Bendeth (Kaiser Chiefs, Taking Back Sunday, A Day to Remember). In Some Way comes off as less an attempt to further explore the band’s intriguing roots (intense, loud verses leading into light-hearted, catchy breakdowns) and more an attempt to match the radio bro-rock that lights up the FM dial and still manages to sell records these days. Yes, cheesy as it is to say, In Some Way, Shape, Or Form is closer to Hinder or Three Days Grace than it is anything on the punk side of things. And that’s really a missed opportunity for a band that clearly has some interesting elements going for it.
Take the best song on the album, “Stuck in the Middle”, a tune that mixes 1980s, Tom Petty-esque Americana rock with the best stuff from the group’s last record, Enemy of the Word. This is a band capable of some truly bizarre, enjoyable moments, which makes it all the more upsetting to see this record come off as a big swing and a miss. They’ve fallen into the trap many hard rock bands have stepped in over the past few years: taking themselves way too seriously.
Elsewhere, the band occasionally succeeds when they use more melody than edge, like on the aforementioned “Just Drive”, and “Bring on the World” is lifted with Rise Against-baiting tempo changes and call-and-response chants. But there are too many moments like the humorless bro-rock of “Sweet Kerosene”, a song that honest-to-goodness sounds like Chad Kroeger churned it out in his sleep.
For a band that made it’s name on lyrics like “Save your breath and get down with me”, raising the stakes to try and make Important Hard Rock was hardly the next step needed for a group that released a covers album with Third Eye Blind and Sugar Ray songs two years ago. If they keep producing music like this, their time bomb may blow up in their faces soon enough.