Properly appreciating All Time Low’s Future Hearts requires a bit of background education. While the Baltimore quartet’s newest effort is impressive in its own right as a complete and well-rounded pop record, the gravity of All Time Low’s current success, in songwriting and in relativity, weighs more when it’s put in context.
Put simply, the argument can be made that All Time Low shouldn’t be in this position; they shouldn’t be releasing Future Hearts at all, and certainly not to this much fanfare. The band didn’t just face a major crossroads after the release of its 2011 major label debut Dirty Work, but a question of whether they should still exist.
At least, that’s how it seemed to the public. The band that became scene-famous with 2007’s So Wrong, It’s Right and experienced even more success with the terrific Nothing Personal in 2009 found itself trying to merely tread water with Dirty Work, an album that strayed from the group’s pop-punk roots and divided the band’s rabid fanbase. To many, it seemed like All Time Low might go the way of many other mid-aughts, neon-era pop-rock bands — that is to say, the way of a Forever The Sickest Kids or any other band whose name you forget until they randomly came up on shuffle. It would have been easy to call it quits back then, and simply forego the hard work and humbling experience that comes with rebuilding.
But it’s a testament to the band’s passion, enthusiasm and savvy that they kept going. They were smart, first and foremost — returning home to indie label Hopeless Records and releasing what was an obvious return-to-form record in 2012’s pop-punk-tacular Don’t Panic, a title that, in retrospect, was phenomenally fitting. They found their groove again, reconnected with a reinvigorated and constantly refreshing (but still ever-loyal) fanbase, and then did what they quite apparently do best — simply keep going.
Future Hearts is All Time Low finally finding its sweet spot. The album has pure pop tunes, with lead single “Something’s Gotta Give,” the Mark Hoppus-assisted “Tidal Waves” and sure-to-be-future-single “Missing You” being the strongest among them. The latter of those three is the type of feel-good pop anthem ready to dominate the playlists of everyone across the spectrum — from Mumford & Sons fans to Ariana Grande fans and everyone else in between. “Runaways” is another standout, and it’s more indicative of the balance All Time Low has struck: Alex Gaskarth soars to some of his highest highs, but the number is decidedly driven by its pounding rhythm section, and its distorted guitars are never too far out of earshot.
The album additionally succeeds in throwing curves right when you’re thinking you’ve figured it out. All pre-existing opinions based on early song releases are thrown out the window when Future Hearts kicks off with the anthemic, chanting “Satellite” before launching into a future live set favorite in “Kicking & Screaming.” You’re hit with with a few singles before the phenomenal “Cinderblock Garden,” then at the end of the record you’re caught winded by a double-shot of the electronica-tinged “The Edge of Tonight” (a song that works…honestly, surprisingly well) and the dark, intense, moody closer “Old Scars / Future Hearts.”
That All Time Low has found a way to fit head-bopping, radio-friendly tunes like the mainly-acoustic “Missing You” and “Tidal Waves” on the same tracklisting as its pounding, rocking closing track is further indicative of the band coming to terms with the best parts of its past releases. “Cinderblock Garden,” with Gaskarth’s standout vocal performance and sticky melody, strikes a particularly poignant chord; when this record really digs into people, this song will be the first choice for high school mixtapes the same way “Dear Maria, Count Me In” and “Weightless” once were. “Don’t You Go,” while perhaps a little heavy on The Young and the Hopeless-era Good Charlotte vibes, sticks out as another solid tune in the record’s latter half. The misses on this album are few and far between, and remarkably easy to look past given that the record is paced very well throughout its 46-minute runtime.
It’s easy to see Future Hearts as a triumph in many ways for a band that is — somewhat shockingly — now six albums and a decade deep into what’s going to be remembered as one of the most celebrated careers to come from a band born of the Warped Tour community. Where Nothing Personal could and should have been a breaking point — arriving just a half-minute too late for rock radio that had just dismissed pop-punk by its 2009 release — Future Hearts feels like it’s laughing in the face of those “problems.”
This is a version of All Time Low that doesn’t need a hit single with national airplay to garner the most album sales in America and the UK during its debut week; it’s a version of All Time Low that not only has zero interest in moving past its pop-punk roots, but is embracing them with more vigor and pride than ever, laying the groundwork for punk bands that imagine a world where “maturing” doesn’t mean leaving behind what you grew up loving. And the fact that we’re here, in 2015, talking about All Time Low garnering the most album sales in any country, would have been insane to imagine four years ago, when longtime fans and casual observers alike (me among them) were writing this band right off the map, waiting for their fade-out. It’s proof that a deep connection with loyal fans is more important than a flash-in-the-pan radio single. It’s proof that a band’s steady commitment to pushing itself is more important than one big arena tour. It’s proof that doing the hard work can turn a pop-punk band into a dominant force that everyone must notice. Not only has All Time Low become the most successful band from that mid-2000s neon era, but it’s managed to establish a career that will support constant, steady success and relativity for another decade to come.
There’s a chance that a breakout single for this band will still happen, and we’ll get to compare them alongside the mainstream currency of acts like Imagine Dragons — but we can also, perhaps more impressively, begin the early stages of comparing All Time Low to groups like Less Than Jake, Taking Back Sunday and others that have become massive, long-lasting rock bands that will seemingly never tire or disappear, the type of band that will release reliably quality music on a regular basis for as long as they damn well feel like it. All Time Low has accomplished something more rare than a No. 1 single or a platinum album with Future Hearts — they’ve reached one of the most unreachable points for a band from their corner of the world, a point of true lasting value. And now we can be sure, in case we were still wondering, that they’re here to stay.