These days, bands don’t really break up: they go on hiatus. Occasionally, you’ll get a band separating more deliberately – doing or saying or writing something that makes it clear this break is meant to be permanent. More often, though, bands just stay dormant until they want to do it all over again – the recording sessions, and the press interviews, and the grueling tours – and then they reconvene. From Fall Out Boy to My Chemical Romance to Blink-182 and beyond, this narrative has played out repeatedly in our little music scene over the years. 10 years ago this week, it happened with Yellowcard.
Yellowcard are unique in that they’ve had both types of endings: the temporary one, with a hiatus designed as an indefinite time away from the music industry; and the permanent one, with a proper send-off album and farewell tour. When the band announced their hiatus in April of 2008, though, most fans probably would have bet on that being the period at the end of the sentence. “It doesn’t have anything to do with turmoil in the band,” frontman Ryan Key said at the time. “It’s more of a…[we’re] facing adulthood now, and we can’t stay in Neverland forever. I think we just need a break.” The Peter Pan reference? The suggestion that rock ‘n’ roll is a young man’s game? The exhaustion that seemed to permeate the last sentence? These ingredients did not bode well for the return of America’s favorite violin-toting pop-punk band.
And yet, when Yellowcard came back, they came back strong. The four albums that the band made between their 2011 comeback and their 2016 last hurrah play, in retrospect, as a complete arc: the refresher course after years away; the perfection of a signature sound; the experimental departure; the summation and goodbye. That journey starts a little more than 10 years ago, with the opening violin salvo of the song (“For You, and Your Denial”) that broke Yellowcard’s silence after the three-year hiatus that followed 2007’s Paper Walls. We premiered that song on AbsolutePunk and it felt momentous, like a prodigal son returning. In four hours, the song got 45,000 streams and crashed the website. It felt like a different time: before artists broke their own new songs on their Twitter feeds, sites like ours had the privilege of playing a major part in the hype machine. And boy, the hype for a new Yellowcard album was off the charts.
When You’re Through Thinking, Say Yes is, in retrospect, a pretty prototypical “reunion” album. It doesn’t take any huge risks, nor is it content to completely repeat the playbook of the albums that came before. Instead, When You’re Through Thinking provides a lot of the signifiers that fans loved about earlier Yellowcard – catchy, summer-soundtrack-worthy pop-punk (“With You Around,” “Soundtrack”), lots of violin (“For You, and Your Denial,” “Life of Leaving Home”), the token acoustic ballad (“Sing for Me”), the big emotional finale about growing up (“Be the Young”) – but fits those cards into a slightly more mature deck. Opener “The Sound of You and Me” is the tone-setter: a big, ambitious, two-part suite that proclaims, fittingly, “I’ve never been more ready to move on.” Yellowcard were ready for bigger, better things than what they were leaving behind – and they’d prove that point on ensuing albums, which took bigger swings and refined the core elements of the band in more satisfying ways. Here, they were getting their muscle memory back, and they did so in such a way that immediately made a compelling case for their continued existence.
Reunion albums are sometimes disappointing. Even without the added complication of a hiatus, it’s hard for a band to recapture the magic of the albums that made people fall in love with them. When a band “breaks up,” that difficulty factor gets dialed up to 11. Knowing you might never hear another new album from a band you love forces you to delve deeper into the albums you already had. In your mind, you build up the ones you loved anyway, upgrading “likes” to “loves” and “loves to “all-time classics.” You might even come around on the albums you never liked much and start heralding them as misunderstood masterpieces. Inevitably, if and when the band you love comes back, you’ll have such monumentally high expectations that it will be hard for anything to meet them.
When You’re Through Thinking, Say Yes was kind of the opposite for me: I liked Yellowcard quite a lot pre-hiatus, to the point where Ocean Avenue was the first album I played on the first day of summer after I graduated high school. But I was hardly a die-hard fan, which actually put me in an ideal position to approach this reunion album. When I heard it, it blew my mind. To my ears, “The Sound of You and Me” was the most impressive, accomplished song the band had ever recorded. The other tracks carried with them the flavor of an idyllic summer season—something I was yearning for amidst a cold, snowy March, in the middle of the worst semester of my college career. For weeks, I listened to nothing else but this album, trying to summon summer a little bit sooner. From the anthems to the sad songs, it felt deeply comforting to me in the midst of a not-so-great time. When the moment finally came for me to pack the car and get the hell out of my college town, I drove away to four months of freedom with this album blasting on the car stereo.
I still love this record, even if it ended up getting eclipsed for me by the albums that came immediately after it. Southern Air, in my mind, is Yellowcard firing on all cylinders, taking their summer-flecked pop-punk sound to its natural apex and conclusion. And Lift a Sail, while often forgotten or derided by fans, is the most emotionally bare record Yellowcard ever made. When You’re Through Thinking, Say Yes is something a little bit simpler: just a damn solid set of songs. “The Sound of You and Me” surges and howls with arena-sized expectations; “For You, and Your Denial” floats on a forebodingly beautiful violin figure; “With You Around” and “Hang You Up” are the best pop songs the band had written since their Ocean Avenue heyday; and the closing trio of “Sing for Me,” “See Me Smiling,” and “Be the Young” hits with a metric ton of emotional poignance, signaling ahead to the deeply moving end-of-youth themes that would dominate Southern Air.
10 years later—and five years after Yellowcard’s second sign-off, that one forever—it’s even harder to fathom that bands like this ever occupied a place in the mainstream consciousness. Pop music culture has moved on so entirely from this type of band and this type of sound that memories of hearing “Only One” on the radio scan as almost alien—even though I remember those days fondly and vividly. But there’s something timeless about the music these guys made together, something that keeps me coming back to their records for new experiences even after a lot of the pop-punk bands that got famous around the same time are now mainly nostalgia listens for me. Yellowcard were just about as good as any band ever was at capturing the skipping-heartbeat possibility of a youthful summer, or at writing songs about the unique, melancholic twinge of coming-of-age. 10 years ago, with When You’re Through Thinking, Say Yes, they came back from a four-year break to deepen those stories and tell them again – and to have, for my money, one of the great second acts in rock ‘n’ roll.