There are some things that come stock with being a human. For example, youthfulness is an inherent birthmark that time can never truly erase. The Maine’s 2017 release, Lovely, Little, Lonely, reminded us that loneliness is not a feeling exhibited exclusively by those who happen to be alone. But if that piercing solitude is just one more needle somehow stitching us to one another, then why is it still so easy to feel so … isolated? It’s the thousand-yard stare into your reflection with that prospective new shirt on. The nights spent laying just a little too still, the ones that can only be described as hours of staring into the back of your eyelids. The heart-fluttering hesitation in confronting yourself with the question “is this where I want to be?” In the end, the sentiment of inadequacy will always remain an individual cross to bear. It’s a distinct brand of discomfort that illusively seems to stem from a series of our commonalities as humans, but that, in reality, is near impossible to divorce from our unique personal experiences.
And let’s be real: the past few years have given us every reason to become lost in that discomfort. Often in a perpetual state of examining the importance of mental health while becoming increasingly aware of the very things that deteriorate it.
“When you’re unwelcome in your skin / it’s a symptom of the times,” a lyric from “I Feel It All Over,” hints at this dissonance following a mischievous synth, stealthily buzzing beneath the verse’s driving rhythm section and lush melodies. While The Maine are no strangers to a good crescendo, the undeniable accomplishment of tension here not only speaks to a faint sense of ambivalence, but it makes that first explosive chorus feel positively freeing. “We’re standing hand in hand / losing our cursed minds / Our backs against the wall / I feel it all, all over.” This display of emotional release is one of many moments where the Phoenix natives handily succeed in their kaleidoscopic response to the fear of inadequacy — the looming self-doubt that unceasingly contests inner authenticity. Because with the aptly titled seventh studio album, You Are OK, it appears that a band called The Maine have learned to use their inner authenticity as a stepping stone to reach a whole new career height.
From the moment album opener “Slip The Noose” takes the stage, it’s clear that The Maine have applied a larger-than-life filter to their well documented, stellar songwriting capabilities. Vocalist John O’Callaghan instantly erupts into a dazzling three-part harmony to convey the album’s refrain, while the vibrant string section backing him up eventually makes way for those goosebumps you got the first time hearing The Black Parade. “Noose” wastes no time to insist that the quintet have no problem rejecting your preconceived expectations. That is unless you expected to have ten new songs duking it out to be stuck in your head on any given day. In that case — you’re in luck. The sophomore single “My Best Habit” harbors a top-shelf hook with the type of cadence that begs to be sung loud like the summer anthems we’ve all peeled out of high school parking lots to. “If you were waiting on the sunshine, blue sky, cheap high, lullaby / then my best habit’s letting you down.” It’s a vulnerable confession from O’Callaghan that gives language to his self-examination, but I dare you to sing it back without a smile. Elsewhere, the triumphant behemoth mid-album rocker, “Heaven, We’re Already Here” features a performance so electric that your living room will start to feel like the stadiums it was born to be played in. From an electronic breakbeat section to speaker-rattling fills and half time choruses, I can guarantee you’ve never heard Pat Kirch slamming his drum kit quite like this.
The grandiose qualities of You Are OK come as less of a surprise with the return of 2008’s Can’t Stop Won’t Stop producer, Matt Squire. With a flurry of impressive names added to his production credentials in the last 11 years, he offers The Maine a boost in flawlessly executing ideas that may have been served only half baked at earlier points in their career. Penultimate track “Broken Parts” is the most effective snapshot of this progress, as a more mature and sobering take on the electronic pop sounds of “You Left Me” — a time capsule from their previous collaboration. It’s two parts orchestral and atmospheric, yet still, the song effortlessly maintains a palpable intimacy as O’Callaghan consolingly croons along, “Fractured in fragments / us fragile things / falling to pieces / but we’re all the same broken parts.” There’s that moment of tension again. Squire’s beefed up skillset proves particularly complimentary to the likes of guitarists Jared Monaco and Kennedy Brock, a duo who are anything but short on creative flourishes to keep listeners reeled in. After all, “apprehensive” would be an appropriate feeling to have when hearing about an ambitious 9-minute emo rock ballad in most cases — but I’ll just wait here while The Maine proves that this isn’t one of them.
And that’s really what this is all about, right? To rise to a challenge, emboldened by passion. Following your bliss to overcome your mind, the mountain before you. Lovely, Little, Lonely was an immeasurable success that saw The Maine build upon a rock solid foundation, exercising the confidence to flex a little bit and give us the best version of what we already knew was in them. But with You Are OK, they’ve stumbled upon a sentiment all the more saccharine — the confidence to fight the self-doubt that keeps them from being completely unhinged, unapologetic versions of themselves. The audacity to not be subtle in their message or the music that carries it. The words ‘You Are OK’ are undoubtedly meant to be taken at face value, comfort food for those of us that need to hear those words to get through the day. Because if enough of those days add up, we might just make something amazing out of them.