ALBUM REVIEW: ‘Oh, Common Life’ - Fireworks
Fireworks - Oh, Common Life
Release Date: March 25th, 2014
Record Label: Triple Crown Records
Reviewer by: Jake Hook
It’s been a while since a pop-punk album has felt as gritty as ‘Oh, Common Life.’ Plenty of bands are taking some blatant influence from Smashing Pumpkins and even The Jesus Lizard and Dinosaur Jr, but at times it can feel like some knuckle-dragging macho fare lacking in any sense of subtlety. Fireworks, however, plays things smart, taking a note from the hi-fi production of 90s alt-rock but coupling it with the flash and flare reminiscent of mid-period AFI. At times dark and creepy, at other times bright and optimistic, a palpable sense of anxiety is a strong undercurrent through most of the tracks. Their skillful mish-mash of influences makes for one of the most unique and clever pop-punk releases of 2014 so far.
Starting things off nice and dark, “Glowing Crosses” marries the riffage of classic grunge bands with a skulking bass line that feels like a predator silently stalking its prey, exploding into a bombastic chorus. Other tracks, like “Files on Tape,” which sounds like it could have been a b-side to ‘A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out,’ shows the band to be just as adept at turning a phrase as they are at churning out solid, weighty riffs. At times, the heavy, dark tracks can seem a tad predictable, but the lyrics pack enough of a punch and the hooks stick hard enough that it might not be such a bad thing to be able to see them coming.
In contrast to the hard-hitters that wallow in their misery but contain a silver lining of optimism for the future, there’s the more upbeat tracks on the album that, despite their sunny disposition, contain hints of regret and loss. “Bed Sores,” for example, sounds like it could have been written by Neon Trees if they spent a month listening exclusively to The Cure. “The Only Thing That Haunts This House Is Me,” which already seems like a charmer based on the title, almost sounds surfy, as if New Found Glory and The Growlers got together for an impromptu jam session.
These tracks serve as another example of what separates Fireworks from their peers. In the case of “The Only Thing…” for example – pop-punk bands over the course of the last 10 years are well-known for having hilariously long song titles, but rarely are they incorporated into the song itself. In that song, though, as unlikely as it seems, that line is actually the hook. Far from being a musical anachronism, it encapsulates a lot about the band. Against all the odds, they’re able to take something cumbersome and hard to deal with, be it the anxiety that comes with growing up or their rather sour musical influences, and manage to infuse it with some hope and accessibility.
The album art, an almost frightening depiction of a boy apparently transforming into a wolf set against a charcoal-scratched background, is perfectly fitting for the music it houses. Despite the big choruses and the saccharine hooks, the music itself deals with some pretty dark stuff which, try as you might to suppress it, is impossible to ignore. That’s what makes ‘Oh, Common Life’ such an enjoyable album, despite the seriousness with which the band approaches things. It’s smart without being pretentious, fun without being pedantic, dark without being depressing, and accessible, but clearly not written with the lowest common denominator in mind.