Brian Sella may finally have his answers. Through his many years of scratching furiously at his guitar out of fear and anxiety for the future, The Front Bottom’s narrative of directionless North Jersey teenagers may finally have a clear direction. A changing, more positive story telling style, pop songs that don’t alienate the die-hards and a determination in facing the future build Back On Top into the beast of an album it deserves to be.
Touring, buying motorcycles, and Sella and Mathew Uychich settling into the people they will become are the main factors in building the groups third (proper) release and are summed up on the opening track. Constantly regurgitating the theme of “Closing your eyes to see the light,” the band is longer defeatist, The Front Bottoms relax and fight the future, guitars firmly grasped. They acknowledge the challenges of failed relationships and becoming your own person while simultaneously countering them with “The light.” This result is the prevailing message of the album, which is a little different than their previous works. The message being, despite everything both the band and the audience can get to the end of the obstacle course that is today’s ADD life. The audience experiences the struggle along with the band as the album progresses and the stakes rise.
In “Laugh Til I Cry” we see the highs. Sella reflects on his old self while interjecting a future benediction, “It’s not my style to be strong, strong enough to want to fight/A fight that I will probably lose, but in the end I will survive, I will survive.”
We also see the characters experience their share of downs. In “Historic Cemetery” and “The Plan (Fuck Jobs)” we see a lot of sober minded reflection, “I can’t begin to tell you the way it felt when everything fell through,” and on the nose humour about just how lazy we can all be, “Never underestimate poor hungry and desperate/My body is a temple, how much you think I could get for it? (Classic Front Bottoms).
The empathetic struggle meets its climax in the final two songs on the album “West Virginia” and “Plastic Flowers.” The former, also the first song released from the album along with “Cough it Out,” is a punch to the gut. Sella almost in monotone keeps exclaiming “Love of my life, gone forever/Love of my life, gone for good.” The desperation is met in “Plastic Flowers” with arguably the biggest chorus the band has ever had, (featuring a choir, woah!) “I believe that someone’s got a plan for me, they got a plan for me, even if I don’t know it yet.” Sella also uses this song to break the fourth wall to explicitly tell the listener the intended sentiment. In vintage form the explicit description of what he means somehow makes the message more confusing. Overall from a thematic perspective the band seems to have their head down, ready to work despite the failures, with their eyes aimed toward the future. They encourage their fans, who are relatively the same age, to do the same.
Change is still in the air on the album. Similar to contemporaries Frank Turner and Into It. Over It., The Front Bottoms are no longer just an acoustic two piece. Touring members, Tom Warren and Ciaran O’Donnell have a permanent role and a lot more involvement with the songwriting process. Raised production values and packed venues have necessitated airtime on Alternative Radio. The irony of TFB’s rise to mainstream rock and roll is that their music always fit the mainstream mould it just never found a home there. The cowboy (power) chords, big choruses and good ol’ American angst were always knocking on the doors of the major media outlets, but no one answered until this past June when Fueled by Ramen finally opened their doors. The band sold out tour after tour as their wave of fans kept growing. Word of mouth and anecdotes about their live performances fed into the still growing legend of the quirky quartet from the Northeast.
Despite the changing atmosphere the most rewarding part of this album is probably how comfortable the Bottoms feel on their new pop landscape. The record comes loaded with an arsenal of songs featuring more relatable topics, better sing-a-longs and overall a more relaxed vibe. Back On Top sets the stage for The Front Bottoms to grab the world by the neck. They closed their eyes, saw the light, and have become the most confident, cool incarnation of themselves yet.
Back On Top is released September 18th. You can watch the video for ‘HELP’ below.