Senses Fail: Life Is Not a Waiting Room

Bill Stewart

Senses Fail's latest effort seethes with all the cloying melodrama and embarrassing sentimentality of a drunken e-mail to an ex-girlfriend.

Senses Fail

Life Is Not a Waiting Room

Label: Vagrant
US Release Date: 2008-10-07
UK Release Date: 2008-10-06

Let's face it: we were all teenagers at some point. We've all had genuine, embarrassing affection for trite music simply because we didn't know better. Our tastes had yet to mature, and thus the overblown, clichéd drama with which that one rock singer laid bare his soul seemed empowering and revelatory. And at the time, it was. But, if people are lucky, they grow up. Preferences become refined, and suddenly looking back at a good deal of those bands you used to worship is enough to make you blush.

Show some mercy to Senses Fail, then. Their fourth album Life Is Not a Waiting Room, in every respect, is a melodramatic and awkward album written directly to the melodramatic and awkward teenagers that we once were.

Like most bands to be slapped with the dreaded emo tag, Senses Fail have delivered an album that's obsessed with failed romances, depression, and self-hatred without saying anything interesting about any of it. Lead vocalist James "Buddy" Nielson, the obvious weak link in the band, alternately screams or whines about hearts, razor blades, and scars for much of the album. The fact that they're lazy, stock images is one thing. The fact that they're delivered with a coupling of self-important gravitas and a complete lack of all but the most rudimentary poetic grace is another. ("A lot of this record is written about the recent break up I had with a long-time girlfriend," Nielson helpfully explains.)

Of course, attacking an album like Life Is Not a Waiting Room solely on the basis of its clichéd subject matter is a bit unfair. From a purely musical standpoint, the album, while still not exactly interesting, fares better. Senses Fail are at their most powerful when they drop the weepy soul-searching and allow their visceral, metal-influenced hardcore to take center stage, as they do on opener "Lungs Like Gallows" and standout "Wolves At The Door". On these tracks, dual guitarists Garret Zablocki and Heath Saraceno manage some rousing tandem solos, and even Nielson's over-emotive yelp transforms into a far more tolerable bark.

These moments are more the exception than the rule, though, and things will inevitably veer back towards histrionic pop-punk that takes itself more seriously than anything associated with the unfortunate term "pop-punk" should. Lead single "Family Tradition" does revolve around a nice chorus hook, but it's a chorus that's drenched in frighteningly sentimental, saccharine group vocals and the hiss of light-weight trebly guitars that have been distorted into mush. Similar moments abound throughout the album. Being that all are imbued with the same exact flavor of cloying overdrama, they're essentially interchangeable. And then you also have to deal with the fact that Nielson is dropping doggerel like "The Garden State has never looked so pitiful and gray as I awake to the garbage men today / I hope they take all of my old mistakes because I can't seem to shake them on my own" (from the appropriately titled "Garden State").

Now, I'm not for a second doubting the authenticity of the depressive mental states that Nielson and company chronicle throughout Life is Not a Waiting Room, and there's evidence of tune sense on this album that can only come with experience. But it's a tune sense that works in the service of some very trite aesthetics. Even if these expressions of heartache and depression are genuine, it doesn't change the fact that they're snuggly wrapped in cliché, musical and lyrical, that would be offensive to anyone but those who simply don't know better. For those people, this album will serve as the perfect soundtrack to a night spent weeping over old MySpace photos. By the rest of us – i.e., those of us who are no longer in high school – it will be rightfully ignored.


In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.