The well-known Melbournian punk rockers are back in top form with the most fully-formed, fun and heartfelt release of their careers, but it also raises some red flags.
The band’s fourth LP More Scared of You Than You are of Me opens strong. First track ‘Forrest’ sets energy levels at an ultimate high. It slaps you in the face with all the tropes we love about The Smith Street Band boys; it’ll get the kids chanting, head-banging and going wild at it’s climax. The album then transitions impressively into ‘Birthday’, an insightful and effervescent take on the intensity of new love. The first act ends with the defining moment of the album, ‘Death to the Lads’. The song that, ironically, lads will love.
From the title alone it is clear that frontman Will Wagner continues to embrace vulnerability as he writes his most earnest lyrics yet. ‘Passiona’ more than hints at Wagner’s history of mental illness and how it briefly affected the band’s tour, “I’m having panic attacks on German TV”, as well as the hopelessness he feels as a “pretty sad person in a quite surreal place”. Many of the band’s devoted followers praise Wagner for openly discussing mental disability, as it relieves a sliver of the associated stigma. This exploration continues with track ‘25’ that recounts relatable insecurities, both internally and financially, and the directionless experienced in your twenties.
However, sometimes Will’s lyrics can get a little too honest. Opener ‘Forrest’ repeatedly demands “I wanna kiss you on the mouth a little bit too hard”. Okay Will, only if it’s definitely consensual. In epic ballad ‘Run Into the World’, Wagner scarily claims “If nothing gets better, neither will I” in reference to the (presumably romantic) relationship with someone whose fights cause “crying in the middle of the night”. Likewise, in ‘Song For You’ he fiercely cries “I just want you to let me love you”. Such phrasing can border on emotional manipulation (a la Mario’s 2006 hit “Let Me Love You”), and needs to be flagged.
Musically, the boys are experimenting with synth, choirs and strings, with the help of producer and well-loved punk rocker Jeff Rosenstock, to create a fresh take on their infectious pub rock sound. You can also hear a few familiar voices on the album including Tim Rogers (You Am I), and Laura Stevenson (Bomb the Music Industry!). Although the new direction is appreciated, the band’s reliance on pop-punk conventions lives on and can become less than exciting by the album’s closing track ‘Laughing (Or Pretending to Laugh)’.
More Scared Of You Than You Are of Me will greatly satisfy old fans and undoubtedly gain a whole new following. Wagner’s openness about mental health is admirable. But just be weary of your favourite angsty frontman- they may be more problematic than you think.
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