The Front Bottoms were at one time leading figures in the emo-revival. A weird pop-punk band from New Jersey that let indie rock and folk influences bleed through. They had lyrics that masked emotion through humor and wits. Also, they were huge. They could book their own festival at New York’s Webster Hall with their friends and favorite bands and sell it out. They toured with emo-vets Brand New on numerous occasions and wrote one of the decades’ best songs about life on the road. Back On Top was a major creative leap for the band, adding much more electric instrumentation than before, and it paid off. The best songs off Back On Top could square off with any number of songs from their self-titled album or Talon of Hawk. Unfortunately, Going Grey shows them doing just that: greying into a mediocre band.
That’s not to say that Going Grey isn’t an album that doesn’t take risks. It’s incredibly different from anything else that The Front Bottoms have put out before. Some tracks lean into some post-rock territory (“You Used to Say”), there are moments that lean heavily on synths (“Trampoline”), and some sound like straight up pop songs (“Peace Sign”). This isn’t to say that the band shouldn’t experiment with these sounds, but none is really executed in a way that sounds like they’re super passionate about. Brian Sella even sounds bored on the gothy “Grand Finale.” Some of the lyrics are seemingly the most lazy the band has ever put to tape like when Sella rhymes “desire” with “hire” on “Trampoline.” The repetitive songs sound more repetitive than they probably are due to the half-hearted nature of so many of these songs. They even over-produced “Don’t Fill Up On Chips,” a track that the early live bootleg sounded so much better than the final album cut. So many of the tracks bleed into each other, due to the lack of distinctive riffs that populated their three previous releases; the production here puddles all the instrumentation. It’s hard to tell if Matt Uychich is even drumming like the animal that he is.
The other downside is how much it seems Sella has cut down on his great lyricism. What Sella has always done best is putting phrases we’ve all heard or images we’ve all seen to a tune where its recognizable in the way a listener has never understood prior to hearing him yelp it over a song. While love songs have never been The Front Bottoms’ forte, “Everyone but You” is especially lazy and couldn’t hold a candle to “Peach.” The water metaphors on “Ocean” are played out, where they’ve done so much better on “12 Feet Deep” and “Swimming Pool,” although Sella’s Tom Delonge-like chorus is fun. Even the addition of “Holy Fuck” in the opening track seems sort of excessive and unnecessary. Even the chorus to “Peace Sign,” one of the album’s better songs, tries to emulate old Front Bottoms lyrics with the image of “next time that she sees him/it’ll be peace sign-middle finger.” It’s clever, but it’s not real and doesn’t make sense like most of Going Grey’s lyrics.
All that said, when the album hits, it hits. “Raining” and “Vacation Town” were wise single choices as they’re two of the album’s best songs. Especially “Vacation Town,” containing the line “I miss walking naked through the backyard to get to the outdoor shower” seems like an early Front Bottoms song. “Bae” has one of the strongest opening lines of 2017. “Far Drive” could’ve been a fan favorite had it been released on a random EP. The album suffers most due to a lack of lyrics that stand out, but these songs give it life. Even “Ocean” has potential to go down as a banger. It is a stronger closer than “Plastic Flowers,” but not nearly as memorable.
With all that being said, this album is a grower. Besides the first two singles, any good thing to be grasped from this album comes after repeat listens. Hopefully, these songs take on a new life once The Front Bottoms hit the road this Fall. Hopefully they grey into one of Jersey’s finest and this is just a minor misstep.