Back on Top is where the Front Bottoms belong

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Ana Erickson, Features Editor

 

The best description I’ve heard of the album Back on Top by the Front Bottoms was, “Oh my God, I’m not embarrassed to like this band anymore.”

Since the beginning of their career, the Front Bottoms have hung in guilty pleasure territory for many of their other fans. If the pop-punk genre is a spectrum, the Front Bottoms definitely lean towards the pop side.

Frontman Brian Sella’s yodelly and New Jersey-affected singing voice is a bit of a mess, but it’s still great fun to yell along.

TFB’s lyrics are cheesy at best and at times pure nonsense, like “I am washing my hair with soap, with soap, with soap” and “you are my home-made mashed potatoes, biscuits and gravy.” They’ve been nailed over and over by reviewers for rhyming “miss you” with “kiss you,” for good reason. It’s pure cheese.

On Back on Top, the Front Bottoms realized this and flipped the bird to the critics. They “missed” and “kissed” us all over again. But the improvement in their sound completely makes up for it.

This summer, TFB signed with Fueled by Ramen LLC, the label that brought us Fall Out Boy, Panic! at the Disco and Paramore, and more recently Twenty One Pilots and Young the Giant.

Some may see FOB and P!ATD in that list and scoff, because they’re often thought of as edgy music for seventh-graders. But the vibes at Fueled by Ramen have treated the Front Bottoms’ sound incredibly well.

The guitars hit harder, the drums are punchier and Sella’s voice rings clearer, as if he’s finally taken some voice lessons. The songs on Back on Top aren’t made up of the same four repeated chords anymore, and the guitar solos in “Summer Shandy” and “West Virginia” would probably never have appeared on TFB’s older albums. Those songs skip the usual depresso-college-burnout category and jump straight into that of the summer party anthem.

Back on Top isn’t fully party music, but it isn’t full-on sad like TFB’s other albums either. They’ve really learned how to have variety in their work. “Cough it Out” nails what it’s like to be in the honeymoon phase of a relationship. “Plastic Flowers” could bring a group of strangers together, crying.  “Historic Cemetery” sounds how loneliness feels. Sometimes I can’t listen to Back on Top all at once, because I’m not ready to feel a full range of emotions.

The use of spoken word on Back on Top adds even more to the variety, since it’s not typically TFB’s style. In “Historic Cemetery,” the spoken part adds weight to the song. It’s dreary, but leaves a particular echo of hurt at the end. The spoken part in “Plastic Flowers” hits in the middle. It’s kind of like a wedding speech: a little drunken, but ultimately heartfelt and encouraging. It ends in a singalong.

I’m not trying to diss TFB’s older albums. They’re very close to mine and many others’ hearts. The Front Bottoms and Talon of the Hawk are like the diaries of a student getting screwed by the world and taking it way too hard. But Back on Top feels like an album that can grow with us.

It celebrates success, acknowledges that sad events are a part of life and it shows how powerful finding a new love (or a new dog, in “Ginger”) can be. Back on Top is something you can enjoy through the ups and downs and most often, relate to.

Back on Top” may just be a play-on-words of “the Front Bottoms” (Back and Front, Top and Bottom–good one, boys), but this album has put TFB back on top of my “Recently Played” list on Spotify.