To put it simply, The Front Bottoms’ latest album ‘Back On Top’ is killer. It’s fun, poppy and shows a growth in musicianship and songwriting that real fans of the band can appreciate. This is the third full album release from the band and the first on their new record label, Warner Music Group’s Fueled By Ramen.
We asked Brian Sella, The Front Bottoms’ frontman, about jitters from critics and fans related the band being signed to a major record label and possibly changing their sound, his response was simple: “We do one thing.” As usual, the lyricist says it best. When it was announced that they’d been signed to Fueled By Ramen, it seemed like everyone complained en masse that it was the end of their treasured Front Bottoms as they knew them. We at YDKJ were cautiously optimistic that what Brian and Mat have been saying all along was true and that the new record label wasn’t making them change anything. They did everything right and pre-released quite a few songs, perhaps to show fans that it was all going to be OK. Listening to the full album now, it’s clear that they didn’t even release all the best songs on the record. They held something back and worked the crowd perfectly. Just like always.
If there’s one thing the band does best, it’s knowing which of their new songs should lead off the record. “Motorcycle” joins “Au Revoir” and “Flashlight” as perfect introductions. “Motorcycle” has all the familiar Front Bottoms guitar licks and Brian’s perfectly random sounding lyrics but adds new elements that we’ll hear throughout the album like a more robust electric guitar sound, multi-voice chorus lines and a much cleaner production value.
The album has instantly classic songs like “Cough It Out,” “The Plan (Fuck Jobs)” and “West Virginia.” These are sure to be loved by fans who are the most reluctant to love the maturing Front Bottoms sound. Brian’s acoustic guitar is front and center in these songs and any fan will instantly connect with these. “Cough It Out,” in fact, has quickly rocketed to one of our top ten favorite Front Bottoms songs of all time.
There are quite a few tracks which foray into new territory for the band. “Summer Shandy” has a prominent rolling bass line from bassist Tom Warren as well as a great electric guitar solo from Ciaran O’Donnell. Before this album’s release, Tom and Ciaran were generally referred to as touring support for original band members, Brian Sella and Mat Uychich. Tom and Ciaran are full band members now so it’s great to be hearing more from them on this record. Another new sound on the album that we love is the 80’s synth in “HELP”. The song also has one of the best lyrics on the album: “This is what I want, motherfucker, make it happen for me.” This is bound to be sung back to the band at maximum decibel levels at every show on their up-coming tour. “Historic Cemetery” really digs into unknown territory for the band and includes a rap section at the end from GDP. The band released a split for Record Store Day with GDP this year so it’s not surprising to hear a little from him on the record. GDP blends in pretty nicely with Brian’s vocal style that is sometimes closer to talking than fully singing.
The final track is “Plastic Flowers” which sounds like a Front Bottoms hymn, if there is such a thing. It starts out with a church organ and ends the album with a very interesting sermon from Reverend Brian. He’s preaching to the choir that even though things change and people grow we all have to “believe that someone’s got a plan for me, even if I don’t know it yet.”
The album was produced and mixed by the amazing Joe Chiccarelli who’s worked with Morrissey, U2, Beck, The White Stripes… and the list goes on and on. He is surely responsible for the cleaner sound on this album but he also kept the soul of the band’s songs pure. And for that, we’re eternally grateful.
This album will keep long-time Front Bottoms fans happy and will, undoubtedly, make the band a lot of new fans with the Fueled By Ramen machine behind them. Touring for ‘Back On Top’ begins on October 14th at Irving Plaza in New York City and goes through November 30th in Rhode Island. After that, they hit the UK and Europe in February.
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