Common Courtesy: Album Review
They're right back at it again
Published: Wednesday, October 16, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, October 16, 2013 15:10
Hailing from Ocala, Fla., A Day to Remember is a band that’s gained recognition for its unusual blend of the hard rock and melodic pop-punk genres. Consisting of Jeremy McKinnon (vocals), Neil Westfall and Kevin Skaff (guitars), Josh Woodard (bass) and Alex Shelnutt (drums), the band has been playing since 2003.
Their unique musical style has helped them gain a massive fan base and put out four studio albums (the last of which came in 2010). Engaged in a tough legal battle with its label, the band had kept its newest album, Common Courtesy, under wraps for months.
Even under these circumstances, A Day to Remember has used its struggles to create its most dynamic and meaningful album to date.
I, along with thousands of other ravenous fans, had been anticipating Common Courtesy’s release since its first single, “Violence (Enough is Enough),” dropped last December. Queuing up the album on release date, I had my fingers crossed it would meet my expectations. Within the first two tracks, I was already blown away.
Coming out with pure energy, the opening “City of Ocala” starts with a driving guitar and wastes no time in cutting to a catchy, melodic verse. Jeremy McKinnon boasts powerful and well-written lyrics with a voice that has matured to impressive levels.
The song seamlessly integrates with the beginning of “Right Back at it Again,” where McKinnon screams an emphatic “We’re coming out swingin’!” Drawing heavily from its pop-punk roots, the track delivers exciting hooks that don’t stop until a climactic breakdown in the final seconds.
While A Day to Remember has sought a larger focus on their pop sound in recent years, they are still a band based on scream vocals and harsh guitar play. “Dead and Buried,” “Violence,” and “Life Lessons Learned the Hard Way” hearken back to some of their earliest work.
Dark lyrics parallel all three guitars’ blaring and cynical tones, punctuated by Shelnutt’s skillful fills and accents. They’re tossed in sporadically throughout the album, and (brilliantly) catch the listener unaware before the sound gets too light-hearted. It’s a little disappointing that the album doesn’t get much heavier than these select tracks, but it’s a problem that’s easy to overlook as the minutes go by.
At times, Common Courtesy can be strictly experimental. “The End of Me” and “I Surrender” are two of the best examples where A Day to Remember alters its sound to fit a distinct style. For the record, this is not a bad thing. The songs pull influences from a handful of new genres like emo, alternative and even pure pop, showing the band’s versatility under any context.
“I’m Already Gone” is a big change of pace and is the kind of acoustic track that takes the world by storm, populating YouTube and Facebook feeds for weeks.
Both lyrically and instrumentally, Common Courtesy is the band’s best-written effort. Fully understanding the themes and meanings of most tracks would take knowledge of the album’s and the band’s complicated histories. However, those who are unfamiliar with either aren’t left in the dark.
The song “The Document Speaks for Itself” is a not-so-subtle protest about A Day to Remember’s lawsuit with its label, Victory Records. With an artful use of diction, though, the song is vague enough to encompass any type of relationship. You’d swear McKinnon had written about a crazy ex or a bad friendship if you didn’t know the specific background of the track.
“Sometimes You’re the Hammer, Sometimes You’re the Nail” pleases the ear with smooth transitions between heavy breakdowns, radio-friendly melodies, soft chords, a powerful bridge and emotional screams. From beginning to end, the album feels sincere.
Although it’s minor, it’s worth noting different commentary-esque additions to multiple tracks on the album. Rather than go for clean recordings, A Day to Remember tacks on different background noises from studio development. For example, “Sometimes You’re the Hammer, Sometimes You’re the Nail” begins with a low-quality sample of a jam session, where the band first formulates the melody of the track.
“I Remember,” the grand finale of Common Courtesy, ends with five minutes of reminiscing, telling funny stories and looking back at who they used to be. Some might criticize the use of these recordings, but I feel it adds to the overall tone and character of the album.
No matter if you’re a metal-head or pop star, casual fan or diehard who’s stuck with the band from the beginning—there’s something for everyone to enjoy on Common Courtesy.
While A Day to Remember is far from the heaviest it has been, that doesn’t mean its newest release is something that can be put off. Some tracks left me with nostalgia, some with a feeling of warmth and some kept me banging my head for days on end.
Even if you don’t purchase the album, I recommend scrubbing through some tracks. Trust me, you will find something to love.