There is an argument to be made that You Me At Six are a singles band rather than an album band. They’ve got some solid lead tracks in their arsenal – ‘Save It For The Bedroom’, ‘Underdog’ et al are jewels in the crown of British pop punk – but they aren’t so celebrated for their albums in the way that other bands, like one time tour mates Paramore, are. Some of their recent albums, including 2014’s Cavalier Youth and 2017’s Night People, have been met with a bevy of two- and three-star reviews from critics – and SUCKAPUNCH isn’t much better.
Picking up sonically from where their last album, 2017’s VI, left off, the Weybridge quintet are multitasking in a way many guitar bands of their size do. They attempt to hold the gaze of the mainstream first and foremost, while throwing some guitar in to avoid alienating their long time fans and making their guitar players redundant.
Electro-rock opener ‘Nice To Me’ serves as a reminder of their rockier sound in the early part of the 2010s, with a remarkable sense of grit and attack that proves that they’re not planning to do their seventh album on autopilot. It is the best track on the album, but not necessarily because they’re engaging with their roots.
‘Adrenaline’ sounds like it was made for a Samsung advert – and that’s not a compliment
The stomping ‘MAKEMEFEELALIVE’ sounds exciting instrumentally, but frontman Josh Franceschi for some reason tries to deliver his lines in an odd mixture of talking, shouting and rapping that comes off as a bad impression of IDLES’ Joe Talbot. Its attempt at social commentary is also rather contrived (“Age, sex and location/Divided as a nation/The lost generation/We’re starved of conversation”), saying absolutely nothing that we’ve not heard already from other bands of their calibre.
Much of the rest of the album shares more DNA with pop than rock. That’s not bad in itself – other bands such as their one-time collaborators Bring Me The Horizon have done it well – but You Me at Six’s brand of pop music is not all that enthralling. ‘Glasgow’ is a nice attempt at a sweeping pop-rock arena ballad but is just not captivating enough to justify going on for over five and a half minutes. ‘WYDRN’ and ‘Kill The Mood’ are nothing more than plodding, banal synthpop tracks while ‘Adrenaline’ sounds like it was made for a Samsung advert – and that’s not a compliment.
These songs are relatively inoffensive, but that is in itself a flaw – they’re so inoffensive that they become rather beige. Occasionally, the band switch things up with some EDM-esque electronica, which could be exciting on paper but it has mixed results in practice. The title track sounds like the result of an experiment in which You Me At Six bring their guitars to the club, and it does kind of work, but on closing track ‘What It’s Like’ the electronic elements are just tuneless bleeps and bloops that fail to lift the song into a higher gear.
There is one more complaint that spans the whole album, and that lies with Franceschi’s songwriting. The lyrics of SUCKAPUNCH are stuffed with cliches – Franceschi is picking up pieces, he’s holding on to better times, the adrenaline is kicking in and love is a drug, and we’ve all heard these cookie-cutter phrases far too many times. Worse still, when he attempts originality and he gets metaphorical, it just sounds cheesy (“You’re fluent in the past tense/I didn’t know you were taking lessons,” he sings on ‘WYDRN’), and makes for a rather mediocre listen.
The album’s title is a massive misnomer – it’s less like a sucker punch and more like a limp handshake. You Me At Six plough a lot of energy and attack into a sound they clearly have confidence in, which lifts the record just a little but is sadly not enough to save it. SUCKAPUNCH is a lukewarm listen at best and a forgettable one at worst.
RECOMMENDED LISTENING: ‘Nice To Me’