Friday, December 2, 2016

REVIEW: YELLOWCARD'S "OCEAN AVENUE"

Ocean Avenue is the fourth album and major-label debut for Floridian pop-punkers Yellowcard. Releasing in 2003 at the height of a rise in pop-punk groups and records, Ocean Avenue saw massive success thanks in part to a wildly successful single – the titular Ocean Avenue. The rest of the album, however, has also seen regards as a classic staple among the genre.

The Content:

Alright. I have a lot to say about this album.

Perhaps I’m biased since Ocean Avenue is in my Top 10 list of all-time favorite albums, but Yellowcard’s first major-label outing is one of those albums that I can never get tired of listening to. As a whole, Ocean Avenue feels like the pinnacle of the late 90s/early 2000s pop-punk surge that brought bands like blink-182 and New Found Glory to fame. And on a deeper level, the thirteen tracks in Ocean Avenue feel righteous on their own. That is to say, they carry their own weight as individual songs as opposed to being small pieces in a larger puzzle.

It feels right to give particular attention to some of the album’s highlights:

1.      - Way Away
Probably one of the greatest opening tracks on an album I’ve heard. The soft, yet electric introductory groove explodes into an absolute barrage of raw riffs and biting violin chords (Yellowcard is notable for featuring a full-time violinist as part of its lineup). The song’s hard, yet breakneck chorus sets the tone for the album in its themes of independence and self-acceptance (“Way away, away from here I’ll be” rings in to open the chorus), not to mention its killer bridge shines as one of the heaviest moments on the album.

2.      - Ocean Avenue
It’d be impossible to talk about the album without bringing up its title track. While the album’s third track does suffer from what I call “title-track-fatigue” (or, when an album’s title track jars out of place form the track sequence as a result of its mainstream over-exposure), it ultimately fits in with the rest of the album’s musical tone in a way that only Yellowcard can do it. And yet the pop-punk anthem still feels like one of the album’s biggest hooks in its belting chorus (who doesn’t remember singing along to “If I could find you now/Things would get better” as a teen?) and violin-solo outro. Without a doubt Yellowcard’s biggest song off its biggest album, and for good reason.

3.      - Life Of A Salesman
The catchiest song on the album for me. The band’s fantastic effects on the guitar shows through in this song’s intro, and even as it weaves through verses and a lyrically-powerful chorus the guitar tones on this track are some of the best on the album. While many pop-punk tunes from the era focus on negatively-focused songs about a parental figure, Life Of A Salesman looks up to a father, the speaker wanting to “be the same as you” in one of the album’s more upbeat tracks.

4.      - Only One
Definitely the showstopper on this album. Had Only One been present on any other album from any artist, its swelling chorus and lyrics beckoning to “Scream my lungs out, to try and get to you” would serve well as an album closer. Yet on Ocean Avenue, Only One closes out the album’s first half, sandwiched between two peppier tracks. The album’s sixth track takes hold of the slow-verse, heavy-chorus formula and makes it its own, managing to build to a stronger crescendo as the song progresses. Complete with a violin solo during the bridge and closing on emphatic strings, this song’s power will move you in ways that no other song can.

5.      - Believe
Believe is a fan-favorite, and is typically used to open Yellowcard’s concerts. Written after the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center, the song tells a story of the speaker’s thankfulness for the firemen who gave their lives to rescue souls trapped in the burning towers. Perhaps one of the song’s greatest moments (and possibly the album’s greatest moment as well) is the lyrical refrain during the outro, in which verses and chorus are heartfully layered over each other to bring the song to a riveting close. The song’s thematics and vocals make this back-half album one of the band’s greatest hits.

So, with all that said about some of the album’s greatest tracks, let’s take a look at the album as a whole. Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, is the inclusion of the violin within the band’s lineup. While some songs would be great on their own without the violin, some songs appear to lose their structure and flow only to be saved by the accompaniment. Then again, I feel that that’s how Yellowcard has always written their songs. By basing the songwriting around the violin’s inclusion, we’re provided with unique song structure that no other band can really provide.

Ocean Avenue, upon multiple listens, has the structure and the feel of a concept album, a la Green Day’s American Idiot. While some tracks, such as Believe, come off independently enough to disparage this idea, I still find comfort in letting Ocean Avenue’s thirteen tracks tell a coming-of-age story of isolation as it develops into a longing for “home.”

Speaking of “home,” it’s that central theme that appears to be the driving force for the album’s lyrics. Ocean Avenue begins and ends with songs talking about home; Way Away details the great escape from home in a want for independence, while Back Home, the album’s closer, laments the glamour of life in California: “Another sunny day beneath this cloudless sky/Sometimes I wish that it would rain here”. And it’s in retrospective lyrics like those that the musical genius behind this album really showcases itself. Only this album could find sympathy in a longing for imperfection, favoring simplicity over shine.

Ocean Avenue is a perfect bildungsroman within the genre of pop-punk and should be a must-listen for any music aficionado.

The Impact:

Thirteen years after its release, Ocean Avenue has become a pop-punk staple for millions of fans across the world – particularly as a result of the success of its title track.

Released in 2004, Ocean Avenue, the third track off the album, saw massive success with its infectious lyrics and humming violin accompaniment (performed by Sean Mackin, the band’s violinist). To this day, fans old and new still find themselves humming to “A place off Ocean Avenue/Where I used to sit and talk with you”.

"I don’t know if it’s necessarily my favorite song we’ve ever written,” said Yellowcard frontman Ryan Key on the single, “But it’s the most important song we’ve ever written…we had a sense that it was a special song, one of the most accessible, massive-sounding pop songs that we’d ever written. But we didn’t know that song was going to change our lives forever."

Thanks in part to the title track’s success as a single, Ocean Avenue would go double platinum, as certified by the RIAA, for domestic sales of over two million copies. In tribute to the album’s success, the band released an acoustic rendition of the album’s entirety in 2013, ten years after its original release.

The Future:

Yellowcard recently announced their forthcoming disbandment following their final world tour, set to end in 2017. Their final album, Yellowcard, released in September of 2016.

In light of the legacy that Ocean Avenue left behind, during select shows on The Farewell World Tour, the band played the album in its entirety among the tour’s setlist. Among the shows in which the album was played were Los Angeles, Hungtington, NY, and a forthcoming show in Cologne, Denmark.

Next week’s review: Panic! At The Disco’s “A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out”

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