If The Front Bottoms were recording in the nineties, they could have been the tree-dwelling music duo (Jonathan Richman and Tommy Larkinsin) in the cult classic film, ‘There’s Something About Mary’. They would have sang about love, loss and happy endings.
The Front Bottoms are securely in the 21st century though, and with their seventh studio album, In Sickness & In Flames, they incorporate nostalgic guitar riffs to produce something fresh. The New Jersey duo experimented with synths on their last album, 2017’s Going Grey, but they have now returned to the familiar rock territory, pondering over love stories and unfortunate events.
“Everyone blooms in their own time. Some far ahead, some far behind” sings vocalist Brian Sella in the opening track ‘Everyone Blooms’, offering the wisdom and maturity he has gained over the years.
But maturity, especially when it comes to relationships is definitely not smooth, as follow-up track and first single ‘Camouflage’ suggests: “We are smoke, living on your parents’ property. It’s a joke, so we don’t take it seriously,” Sella sings. The track is a warning, before the chaos between mental breakdowns and police calls. The song progresses with a loud burst of guitars after the chorus and backing vocals in the role of Sella’s inner voice, who admits, “I’m obviously distant, I’m a thousand miles away”.
‘The Hard Way’ is one of the album’s strongest moments. Starting with a Richie Sambora-style solo, followed by a stripped back guitar riff and mellowed vocals, the ballad builds into a crescendo, which flips it into a completely different style of track. It soon returns into ballad mode though, as Sella announces that “We are all going the hard way”.
Next track ‘Leaf Pile’ works like an alter-ego to its predecessor. With a heavy intro and a more optimistic outlook on bad breakups. “First you get hurt, and then there’s healing. It’s a process, believe me”, Sella sings.
The penultimate track ‘Bus Beat’ is another catchy guitar intro which turns into pandemonium. It soon crashes into a whirlwind of distorted guitars, followed by a banjo and a baby piano. The track’s outro is delivered more like a stand up performance as Sella talks about his views on marriage, “You’ll always be my girlfriend even after we get married. And no matter how sad I am, I will try to make you happy,” he announces.
What goes on inside Sella’s mind is a mystery. This album could indeed be a step towards maturity, or a realisation of how futile maturity is, in a life of chaos. Either way, The Front Bottoms have managed to produce a brilliant piece of work that addresses these thoughts clearly – with both with and deadpan humour.