The year 2007 was a good time for fans of alternative pop music. That year was absolutely littered with bands who were writing catchy hooks left and right: Mayday Parade, Every Avenue, All Time Low, Forever the Sickest Kids, We The Kings, Farewell, The Cab… the list goes on and on. The problem however was that this resulted in a homogeneous sludge of power chords and breakup lyrics that made it impossible for anyone to stand out. Well, there was also a five piece band from Tempe called The Maine that began making waves with their EP The Way We Talk in ’07. Fast forward eight years and, unlike the majority of the bands above who have more or less disappeared completely, The Maine withstood the test of time, and with the same lineup to boot. They’ve grown and adapted their sound through the years and they’re still alive and well, this time producing one of their most well-rounded releases to date with American Candy.
American Candy is accessible for any The Maine fan. Whether you’ve been with the band since Stay Up, Get Down or have joined more recently in the post-Black & White era, you’ll find something that you like. The bubblegum on the album cover certainly primes you for the delectable offerings within, but the pop here isn’t of the usual flavor; it favors the refined over the inflated. The album appeals just as much on a hot summer day as it does on a cool fall evening. American Candy comes in at an even pace with not much worth skipping on a full play-through.
Barn burning opener, “Miles Away” isn’t the candy coated sensation you’d expect. It carries an air of highway-ready Americana with lyrics to match: “I didn’t ever want to come down / from that West Coast rush and summer high / an easy, peaceful sense of time / I felt so alive.” “Same Suit, Different Tie” sets itself apart as an early favorite; it’s a great compliment to “Miles Away” before the album takes its first risk with “My Hair.” The slow churning verses of “My Hair” mislead you into a straight up jam session of a chorus. Its slight diversity in sound helps helps the pacing and offers the front half some room to breathe.
”English Girls” is the clear victor on American Candy, hosting a distinct feeling of the 90s, and an absolutely killer chorus which details a sultry bar encounter in London. The song was cemented even further into my mind after seeing it performed live; if you have any hesitation on seeing The Maine this year, let me eliminate that right now. The new songs translate exceptionally well on the stage, and you can tell the band is having a blast.
The complete 180° in “24 Floors” comes next. It’s easily one of the most lyrically intense songs that vocalist John O’Callaghan has ever written, detailing thoughts of ending his life three years ago: “Twenty four floors / up in some hotel room / feeling so low / thinking of jumping soon… if you were here with me / you’d say, ‘you don’t wanna die tonight / take one more breath to clear your mind…’ “I’m glad I’m still here, and I’m still able to make music,” John mentions in an interview.1 “Hopefully that song is some sort of solace for people that are feeling down or alone.”
The record picks up afterward with one-two punch “Diet Soda Society” and “Am I Pretty.” The latter combines the jam session vibes of “My Hair” with the infection of “English Girls” which results in one of the best songs of the back half. The album’s explosive lynch pin, “American Candy,” pulls out all the stops. The title track encompasses the ability that The Maine possesses to push their sound to the next level. The song rocks and the live rendition left my jaw wide open. Drummer Pat Kirch is at the height of his game as he and O’Callaghan start the track off before the whole band jumps in. “American Candy” is one of the greatest songs the band has ever written.
With the cavalcade of tracks so far on the album, it was nearly impossible to predict how the album would end. Enter astronomic sing-along, “Another Night on Mars.” Since I’m an old school The Maine fan, I was instantly reminded of Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop’s “We’ll All Be…” “Another Night…” is a nice ending to a solid album, but it’s not the ending I was hoping for. It pales in comparison to the pure strength of the title track, which would have been a better closer.
In the end, American Candy is a relatively safe release that may not pack enough punch to land a top spot your EOTY list. Still, there’s plenty to enjoy. I’m really not sure what we’ll see next from the band. They continue to take risks, like evolving their sound, or bringing along Real Friends and Knuckle Puck on their headlining tour, but that’s what you need to do to stay alive these days. They certainly have the bravery to push their sound to new dimensions in the future.