It’s only been 14 months since Man Overboard last released a full-length record, but the stage couldn’t be any different for the New Jersey-based pop-punk defenders. You knew I was going to bring up that motto in the first paragraph before you clicked that link, didn’t you?
Unfortunately, just like my introductory remarks, Man Overboard’s self-titled second LP and first for upstart-pop-punk-powerhouse Rise Records is…slightly predictable. Luckily for listeners and fans, that isn’t even close to a bad thing. When the group released Real Talkon Run For Cover last summer, they had something to prove. After quite a few successful EPs, it was time to show that they could make a record that was something like 35 minutes long, and worth every second.
They succeeded. Real Talk was well received by fans and critics. This self-titled album is more of the same, albeit with better production and hooks that soar even higher. The chorus and double-time tempo of opener “Rare” shows right away that recording with New Found Glory’s Steve Klein was an A+ decision, as his extensive experience in the genre is a valuable asset in production. Compared to Real Talk, Man Overboard is more clear, crisp and punchy.
“Voted Most Likely” might remind fans slightly of “Montrose,” but then again, a lot of songs on this record might remind fans of past MOB songs. The standout sequence on the record is “Punishment” and the two songs that sandwich it – “Something’s Weird” and “Not the First.” Nik Bruzzese (editor’s note: that was the first time I ever spelled his last name correctly on first guess) and Zac Eiestenstein (didn’t even try to spell it right without looking it up) still blend perfectly in the vocal department. The crashing chorus of “Punishment” might even be the best thing this band has ever written. In “Not the First,” the “GO!” at the end of the first chorus and “OH!” at the end of the second chorus simply bleed shades of Sticks and Stones.
But, along with the highest of highs comes the lowest of lows. “Picture Perfect” is a forgettable track, but at least it doesn’t bring down the high energy of the album. It was a good decision to not include a half-tempo, unnecessary acoustic track here. As catchy as the songs on this record are, one cannot help but feel repetitive throughout the listen. Thirty-three minutes should fly by with this type of music, but that isn’t so much the case on Man Overboard as it was on Real Talk – and while comparing two records only goes so far, the difference between the two albums seems to be minimal. They’re still singing songs about liking girls and being awkward, aimed directly at skinny dudes with band tees and, ahem, roses in the closet.
Speaking of songs about being awkward, the closing track “Atlas” is the new anthem for the suburban, inwardly facing punks of America. Just take the first verse, sung by Eiestfivbgitbrenstein: “I stare out of my window and I look out at my neighbors / And take notes on being normal / How to wave and be nice, or talk to a child / Or offer a hand, or actually smile / Maybe I’ll learn how to talk to people / Maybe I’ll learn how to laugh / Maybe I’ll end up just like my dad / But I just don’t feel like a grown-up yet.”
Now, I’m a pop-punk junkie. This album is heavily laden with awesome hooks, especially in the vocal department, and the rhythm section is better than ever. Justin Collier and Eiestfivbgitbrenstein are as good as ever on the guitars. I’ll be spinning Man Overboard for a lot longer than this review implies, because I think it’s a fun album with lyrics that, while they are not exactly impressive, apply to me and are fun to sing out loud. And, coming from Man Overboard, that is probably exactly what I wanted. Another way this band is similar to New Found Glory is that you’re not really looking for something astonishing in the liner notes – you’re not expecting anything Shakespearean and those familiar with the genre can probably predict the song structure even when they’re hearing the songs for the very first time.
But all of those things come along with your new-school pop-punk, and Man Overboard plays the poppy version of this genre as well as any other band. So, while my critical senses might want to mark this down as an underwhelming repeat of Real Talk, I am too distracted to do so because my foot won’t stop tapping along with first single “Dead End Dreams.” So I extend my applause to Man Overboard for making another batch of a dozen songs for me to sing along to in the car, and I will happily don my assault rifle-branded t-shirts for another year or two to come, because I fully support and enjoy this band. But I’m in college – I’m still willing to listen to anything this genre throws at me. I listen to this type of music like I’m drinking water in a desert. The real question is, as its listeners grow older, will Man Overboard be able to adapt and make the proverbial leaps and bounds in musicianship and lyricism necessary to keep them attentive? We’ll have to wait and see.