Pop-punk never has been and never will be a genre to converge on innovation. Regardless of how much the purists, nostaligsts, and old-time Drive-Thru loyalists might argue for the accomplishments of their once-favorite acts, those days of novelty have since passed. With those claims already staked out, hordes of visitors have arrived in a quest to find their own stamp of land in this crowded settlement, doing so with an homage to their predecessors, but at the same time working to establish a proper identity in a sweet sound all their own.
A cursory glance through the latest offering from All Time Low, Put Up or Shut Up, reveals an act that kowtows in such a style, with more than a passing resemblance to bands like Fall Out Boy, The Starting Line, and Cartel. In reality, however, that is an overly simplistic conclusion to reach. Sure, thematically, the band does not establish itself as a wholly disparate entity by any means, but that is not the name of the root game here, really. All Time Low most certainly gives the “what’s up?” head-nod to the scene heavyweights, but tosses in plenty of proprietary flair to earn due respect.
Vocally, Alex Gaskarth ebbs and rolls into Patrick Stump-esque lowered verses (“The Girl’s a Straight-Up Hustler”) and also lets his notes resonate with a poignant quiver a la Will Pugh (“Coffee Shop Soundtrack”), but he so seamlessly switches between these perspectives unlike either of his predecessors. Likewise, the rest of the band dutifully alternates between frenetic, punkish urgency and crunchy, bouncy anthemics in a way that is artfully fractured yet entirely accessible. And thankfully, with regards to lyrics, All Time Low eschews the angsty, faux-irony of the Fall Out Boys in the scene, but instead imparts an optimistic, almost tongue-in-cheek, playful confidence that perfectly reflects the band members’ ages and stations in life and the industry. Stanzas like the following are not exactly going to make Daniel Webster fear for his place in history, but they sure are amusing enough to sing to, and poetic enough to make discerning listeners not feel wholly ashamed for doing so:
Tonight is alive with the promise of a street-fight, And there's money on the table, That says your cheap-shots won't be able, To break bones. I've yet to break a sweat I'll make your past regret its future. Here's to you.
Not to belittle the rest of the band's work here, but as with most pop-punk, the songs end being made or broken by orbiting around the almighty hook, and Put Up or Shut Up's tracks prove to be no exception. Every chorus on the record is filled with thick, lustrous vocal layers and a keen songwriting sense that makes each individual highlight stand out from the rest. The vocals are spot-on, perhaps due to (over?) production wizardry and work into some of the most syrupy harmony textures this side of Living Well Is The Best Revenge. The obvious attention paid to these hooks gives this EP its wings and makes it a surefire hit to summer driving everywhere. If you need evidence, scope the massive vocal onslaught on "Break Out! Break Out!" and just try not to sing, "Stay seventeeeeeeen!" at the top of your lungs during "The Party Scene." If you can resist, well congratulations, you are officially an embittered human being.
When the record stops playing, and you step outside the music itself, sure there is a lot of static concerning the value of an EP like this. Most of the material is re-recorded or recycled in some fashion or another, but the re-work that is done is spectacular enough ("Running With Lions") in most instances to appeal to older fans of the band, but really, this whole recording is a bone thrown to reel in newcomers to the All Time Low camp. Whichever faction you may consider yourself a part of - longtime follower, fresh fanboy, or impartially ignorant, you'd do well to pick up Put Up or Shut Up before this band is absolutely huge. All Time Low is not reinventing the wheel or curing cancer or whatever, but this is the catchiest pop-punk EP released since Cartel's The Ransom, and serves as a shining indicator of a young band's limitless future. When you consider these guys are barely old enough to buy cigarettes, the only place left for them to go is up.