A lot is at stake for New Found Glory upon the release of their seventh studio album, Radiosurgery. At a time when pop-punk is experiencing something of a revival following strong recent releases from the likes of Man Overboard and The Wonder Years, amongst others, the albums’ release provides an ideal opportunity for NFG to cement and to justify their position as genre leaders.
The bands’ last release, 2009’s Not Without a Fight, was something of a disappointment. Following their slight sonic departure on 2006’s Coming Home, the band had stated a desire to return to what had made them so successful in the first place – namely, catchy, bouncy pop-punk. Radiosurgery has been issued with a similar mission statement, but where NWAF largely failed to re-capture the energy of the bands’ early 2000’s heyday, Radiosurgery succeeds in spades.
The same themes familiar to anyone that has ever listened to a New Found Glory record appear again here – immediate melodies wrapped around chunky guitars create infectious songs, which often belie the melancholy nature of the lyrical content. Radiosurgery plays out as a concept album of sorts, exploring the many facets of a broken relationship, from the initial crushing disappointment, through the anger and inevitable one night stands that follow, to the final acceptance that all is over. The band borrow an idea or two along the way from ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’ – the radiosurgery of the title used as a metaphor for the removal of memories about a certain person from the brain. Against this familiar backdrop of broken hearts and broken promises, New Found Glory have created their finest album of this ilk since Sticks and Stones (given that Catalyst was a slightly different take on the genre to other NFG offerings).
Musically, the band have returned to their punkier roots, particularly evident through the driving, insistent guitar work – indeed, guitarist Chad Gilbert spoke upon release of the album of how he had listened to “nothing but the Ramones” when writing, and it shows – but also step up the pop aspect of their music at the same time. Songs like ‘Drill it in my Brain’ and ‘Summer Fling, Don’t Mean a Thing’ would not sound wholly out of place on any mainstream radio station. The hooks found on these songs, and on similarly catchy tracks such as ‘I’m Not the One’ and ‘’Ready, Aim, Fire!’’ will lodge themselves in your head and not leave for days.
However, whilst undoubtedly providing the catalyst for the bands’ most accomplished output in recent years, the return to old ways can’t help but slightly disappoint. In trying to do what they achieved so brilliantly ten years ago, New Found Glory are attempting the somewhat impossible – they simply are not the same people they were ten years ago. They have experienced more in life and it strikes a little hollow that their output here steadfastly refuses to reflect this. Whilst 2006’s Coming Home was met with a mixed reaction from fans and critics alike, it was at least a step in a bold new direction for NFG, maturing with each individual member – and, interestingly, was also said to be about the serious breakdown of band members’ relationships, as is the case here. Radiosurgery is thirty-something’s singing about teenage issues, and it is occasionally difficult to derive how much the band really mean this like they did in 2001. Coming Home may have failed to exorcise all the relationship demons experienced by the group, but it was at least a move which saw them try to banish them via a different route. Having heard this, Radiosurgery feels like something of a regression. This is not to say that this is in any way a bad record, but rather one that leaves the question of just how good it could have been had the band pushed themselves into previously unchartered territory.
It is perhaps no coincidence that the decline of pop-punk (until relatively recently) coincided with the weakest output of New Found Glory’s career. But as the genre grows back to the strength of former glories, it is good to have one of the true heavyweights of the division writing their names back up on the pop-punk wall. That said, one can’t help but feel the band are treading in safe waters, instead of really testing themselves musically.Radiosurgery is saccharine enough, and there are strong songs here which you will find yourself humming days after hearing them last, but the sweetness is insufficient to really quench the thirst for something with more substance.
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