Four Year Strong is a band for underdogs. They’ve been playing music together since 2001, but it wasn’t until six years later that they finally found themselves releasing their breakthrough album Rise or Die Trying on a solid record label. And then, after years of touring and promotion through the likes of MySpace and PureVolume, people finally started paying attention.
Since then, they’ve experienced a whirlwind of success, jumping from Pete Wentz’ Decaydance Records to Universal Motown, releasing a ’90s cover album and drawing huge crowds at the Vans Warped Tour and even Australia’s Soundwave festival. On the heels of these accomplishments, the band released their major label debut Enemy of the World earlier this month, and it is anything but disappointing.
The band has ditched much of the playful heaviness heard on Rise or Die Trying, which is a good thing – goofy, synth-filled breakdowns get old pretty fast. In its place, they’ve substituted real heaviness, with wonderful results. Nineteen with Neck Tatz (yes, they’re still exercising their goofiness in their song titles) is one of the heaviest, no-nonsense songs they’ve ever written, and the title track features an intensity never before heard from Four Year Strong.
But don’t fear, they haven’t forgotten how to write a good hook. Wasting Time (Eternal Summer) and Find My Way Back are the band’s first big potential radio hits, and Flannel is the Color of My Energy is the perfect mix of every musical element Four Year Strong have come to be known for – synth, blistering drums, gang vocals, a catchy chorus and a breakdown.
The lyrics aren’t spectacular, but pop-punk music has never been known for its lyrics. That being said, not every song on this album is about relationships, and even the ones that are – see This Body Pays the Bill$ – are well-written and fun. And on One Step at a Time, for the first time, the band attempts to drop their lyrical lightheartedness completely and tackle a serious topic – the death of a loved one. It works, and the song is easily one of the best on the album.
One of the most memorable concerts I ever attended was at The Attic, a day after Thanksgiving in 2006. I was a nerdy little freshman who couldn’t convince any of his friends to go with him to see this no-name band called Four Year Strong the day after a big holiday. They weren’t supposed to start playing until around 9 o’clock, but they were in the middle of their set when I walked in at 8:45. The openers had canceled. There were fifteen people inside, 20 at the absolute most. None of them were standing in front of the stage; they were all sitting or leaning against the wall at the side of the room.
I approached a couple guys from the band after they had finished playing, expecting them to be bummed out. I would’ve been, had I been in their position. They’re from Massachusetts, so they had surely missed out on Thanksgiving with their families and friends, and for what? For a show where people wouldn’t even move up to the stage when they started playing? But no – “a show’s a show,” said one of their vocalists with a little shrug. He checked at their merch table to see if they’d sold anything. He reported back – one T-shirt and one CD. I held them both. He called their bassist over to say hi and thanked me for coming out to see them, and then they packed up and shipped out.
I was giddy. I knew I had just discovered something big, and that even if people didn’t know the name Four Year Strong yet, it would only be a matter of time. With Enemy of the World, it looks like their time has finally arrived.