It’s been 10 years since Maryland quartet All Time Low made a name for themselves with their breakthrough release So Wrong, It’s Right. Since then, they’ve become the flag-wavers for the modern pop-punk scene, picking up where critically lambasted but culturally influential groups like Fall Out Boy, Blink-182 and Good Charlotte left off, and have generated an entire horde of imitations, most of which have broken up in the intervening years. (Pop-punk really only pays the bills when your parents put a roof over your head.)
ATL went through the major label ringer early on, with 2011’s Dirty Work serving as an entry-level pop record beneath their natural talent that went nowhere commercially and resulted in the band parting ways with (some might say dropped from) Interscope/DGC. Since then, All Time Low released a strong comeback album (2012’s Don’t Panic) and a chart-topping sequel (2015’s Future Hearts, which was aiming for a No. 1 Billboard debut but was bested at the last minute by the Furious 7 soundtrack). These albums featured collaborations with Fall Out Boy’s Patrick Stump (Don’t Panic) and Good Charlotte’s Joel Madden and Blink-182’s Mark Hoppus (Future Hearts) — All Time Low had finally achieved the respect of their elders to go along with the adulation of their peers. But sonically, not a whole lot had changed, and the pop-punk playbook is only so deep. So where do we go from here?
Enter Last Young Renegade. Recorded in secret throughout 2016, the album is All Time Low’s second go-’round with the major label machine, being released on Atlantic Records subsidiary Fueled By Ramen. But whereas they were clearly not ready for prime time in 2011, All Time Low ca. 2017 is refined, sleek and frankly, just better than they’ve ever been before. Their sound has gone through a pretty substantial makeover, with a lot more piano and synth action than ever before (“Drugs & Candy,” the Tegan And Sara-featuring “Ground Control”), and a fearless embrace of modern R&B (“Dirty Laundry,” “Life Of The Party”), akin to their now-labelmates Paramore, Panic! At The Disco and twenty one pilots. That’s not to say they’re chasing after pop radio’s tail; they’re simply adapting their sound to remain relevant in a genre that has long since been stagnant. (Thanks, New Found Glory and the 500,000 soundalikes who continue to loiter in Warped Tour parking lots every summer.)
The downside of Last Young Renegade is that it is devoid of anything even remotely resembling the goofiness inherent in the band’s live shows. It’s a very serious album, almost to its detriment: “Good Times” is a bit of a slog, trying too hard to be anthemic, and “Nightmares” is a plodding number that doesn’t add much worthwhile. The closest thing to the ATL of old is “Nice2KnoU,” a truly groan-worthy song title masking a solid melodic rock number that feels like an old Jimmy Eat World LP on 45rpm. The album-ending “Afterglow” is a gem, too, sounding like what might happen if fun. wrote a song with Third Eye Blind’s Stephan Jenkins.
Really, Renegade’s biggest success is its brevity: At 10 songs and 37 minutes, it’s the shortest record the band has ever made; it’s in and out before you have a chance to tire of this new sound. How these songs will work live is something yet to be determined, but kudos to All Time Low for breathing new life into the band after a decade of success.