REVIEW: Forever the Sickest Kids – J.A.C.K.

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Artist: Forever the Sickest Kids
Album: J.A.C.K.
Genre: Pop-punk
Label: Fearless Records

Forever the Sickest Kids sing pop-punk songs with big choruses, happy riffs, and electronic elements. That’s it. That’s their USP. If something so commonplace in the scene can be described as a USP. It’s a sunny vibe, but it’s not a very imaginative one either. As a reviewer, music like this can often be tiresome to listen to – it’s not horrendous or offensive or completely terrible, but it’s just not very interesting either. For every one band you come across with something thoughtful to say, there are a dozen more who write the equivalent of High School Musical with guitars and synth. On the surface of it, I have no problem with J.A.C.K. — it’s catchy to a fault, it’s generally quite upbeat, it’s well made and well performed. It’s inconsistent in tone and lyrical content, but that’s hardly the worst fault in the world. The problem is that it’s so insubstantial. It’ll draw you in, but it won’t prove very memorable. A lot of the songs sound overly similar and it’s difficult to read anything deeper into them. One would hope that a band of this stature – especially given their attempts to revisit their roots on this album – would think to harness more than just the poppy hip sound and add something more enduring, but for me this is just another lightweight effort.

If, however, the real barometer of success is audience reaction then J.A.C.K. will do just fine. Practically every song comes garnished with a flagship chorus that’ll no doubt go down a storm in a live setting. “Chin Up Kid” and “Keep Calm and Don’t Let Me Go” both score highly in this regard – rambunctious, jovial tracks with plenty of energy and attitude. “Nikki,” co-written by one Sir Patrick Stump, is slightly better than its predecessors and includes an arching guitar solo, but still doesn’t offer much in the way of character. In many ways, the most irritating thing about songs such as these is the limited subject matter. There are only so many takes on the boy meets girl dilemma that one can write before it all becomes repetitious and unconvincing. Again, Forever the Sickest Kids aren’t exactly the worst culprits here but they too struggle to write anything that leaves a mark. “Playing with Fire” could be knocked out by anyone with the right computer programmes and a stack of teen movies on DVD, and “La La Lainey” is literally “Sk8er Boi” from a guy’s perspective (fetishism, a possible friend zone complex, and how the feck does a forest need a flame exactly?).

“Ritalin (Born In America)” is a more convincing offering. It has something resembling a message, and it doesn’t feel forced either. The instrumentation lends it a profound, heartfelt air – strings and piano adding some grace and depth to the otherwise standard group vocals – and even if the bouncy, cartoonish approach makes it a little uneven, it’s a decent attempt to convey meaning. “My Friends Save Me” is also memorable, though that may be more down to the fact it’s acoustic than anything else. Sentimental and gentle, it’s a wholesome ode to friendship that’s only partially undone by the complete 180 in tone for the following track. “Cross My Heart” bemoans the inertia of young adult life – particularly the drifting friendships – and is the only really mature track on the album in terms of lyrical content, though it is ironically delivered to a very spunky beat. It’s relatable and seems to promote hope despite the despairing outlook. It’s a pity the rest of the album didn’t follow on from its example.

J.A.C.K. does have its moments and is, broadly, an enjoyable piece of work, but then again that’s also its failing. It doesn’t really do enough to be deserving of higher praise. It’s very pretty and sunny and predictable, but can’t shake the disappointment of not being more than the sum of its parts. The band do well enough but I can’t shake the feeling that there should be more to pop punk than this.

SCORE: 6/10
Review written by Grace Duffy

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