In 1991, on Fugazi’s ‘Stacks,’ Ian MacKaye sang, ‘America is just a word but I use it.’ Minor Threat, the hardcore band that MacKaye was best known for before Fugazi, didn’t deal with concepts like that; theirs were personal politics, the friends who had betrayed you or the assholes who pissed you off. Their outlook was rigid, little nuance or philosophical thought, and the standard template for hardcore remains as such. MacKaye grew tired of hardcore before long, though, of its violence and rigidity. Fugazi, in a lot of ways, was an anti-hardcore band. Their rich and complex musicality couldn’t be further from Minor Threat’s fast, loud and sloppy approach, and their lyrics offered political and social commentary that was intelligent and nuanced. It was post-hardcore.
On ‘Birds of Paradise,’ a track halfway through Fury’s Failed Entertainment, vocalist Jeremy Stith declares, ‘US of A, just an idea to me.’ Fugazi’s semantics are echoed, but the similarity stretches further than that; this too is a record that reaches beyond what hardcore tends to be. The crucial difference is that Failed Entertainment is, unmistakably and proudly, a hardcore record.
A reunion is a tricky thing to get right. When a widely adored band returns after a long time away, there’s a daunting amount of room for disappointment. Some bands try to recapture the lightning they managed to bottle two decades ago and end up sounding like shambling zombies of their former selves, unable – as anyone is – to return in their middle age to being the people they were in their youth. Others don’t concern themselves with new music at all and simply play the old songs to the people who want to hear them with only half the energy and sincerity it would take to make them worth the ticket price. Emo has seen examples of both models in the past half-decade, as the genre’s revival sparked a renewed interest in its golden-era bands. But it’s also seen a third model. A select few groups have found a sweet spot of honesty and genuineness in who they are now, combined with a connection to and awareness of who they were twenty years ago. It’s in this sweet spot that a band manages to hang on to their soul.
As reunited emo bands go, American Football are anomalous in that their second time around has by now lasted longer than their first. All the mythos and reverence that came to surround the band in the time that they were gone was built in only three years and one record together. It puts them in a unique position, that of being on only their third album 22 years after they formed; they’re a band still exploring and expanding their sound, yet with the maturity that comes from age and experience.
When New Found Glory broke into the mainstream in the early 2000s, it certainly wasn’t amongst a shortage of pop-punk bands. The post-Blink boom meant that for a few years, every bunch of spiky-haired kids in Dickies was getting picked up by a major and amassing radio and MTV coverage. But what always set New Found Glory apart from their Warped Tour ilk was their genuine connection to heavy music. A teenaged Chad Gilbert was the vocalist for metalcore legends Shai Hulud before he was New Found Glory’s guitarist, and where other pop-punk bands of the time were taking influence from the likes of Descendents and Screeching Weasel, NFG were drawing more from East Coast hardcore like Madball and Snapcase. They positioned NYHC guitar tones as the backdrop to sickly-sweet pop vocals, and mastered both elements better than any of their peers could.
This distinction set New Found Glory up for longevity that outlasted pop punk’s commercial day in the sun, and such longevity makes inevitable – and perhaps relies on – a change in course. So in 2006, while bands like Midtown and Fenix TX had dissolved around them, New Found Glory released their fifth album Coming Home. It swapped the crunchy riffs for mid-tempo soft rock more comparable to, say, Journey than to their heavy early influences. It was a smart move, with pop-punk by now commercially dead in the water as emo-pop took its place, and one that paid off too; it was likely better received critically than any of their records prior.