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