My first and only Warped Tour stop happened the summer before I went away to college. The year was 2012, the lineup was expertly stacked with old favorites and new delights, and I was surrounded by an incredible amount of energy, even if that enthusiasm came via a dichotomy of pastel-colored hair poofs and camo-flaunting mosh pit veterans. My inaugural visit to this traveling circus of misfit toys was pretty incredible, and really only had one glaring miscue. I’ll always remember having air conditioning blast my face five miles from Virginia Beach, while young girls tortured my ears as All Time Low delivered a profanity-laden pop-punk set in front of me.
Now, I sound like a classic case of Man Yelling At Cloud here, but as Alex Gaskarth and friends slammed out overly-sexxed lines to girls whose fathers lingered on stage behind the band, I had a strange feeling that this didn’t seem right. Then again, I was thirteen and barely registered in a Michigan high school when So Wrong, It’s Right arrived in my iTunes on release day. Screaming songs about an adult dancer named Maria and the crushing pain of a one-night stand in my boxers while my parents cooked dinner downstairs probably didn’t sound right to anyone who was within five feet of my closed bedroom door. I guess this Warped Tour episode was no different than teenage me’s regularly-scheduled programming.
2006 was the year that pop-rock outfits bought distortion pedals and crossed over into the hearts of those pining for something new from Drive-Thru Records. Fueled by Ramen made this transition known, with their laundry list of bands — Cute Is What We Aim For being a chief example — marrying zealous wordplay with six-string crunch. The indie-label circuit hopped on this trend train at the same time, with Fearless Records releasing Mayday Parade’s seminal A Lesson in Romantics and Hopeless Records shedding their metalhead past and signing a quartet of raging hormones from Baltimore named after a New Found Glory song. Hot Topic would never be the same (And seeing as Hot Topic ultimately pressed this record to vinyl, it’s been a lovely relationship!).
The next year, that Free State four-piece would release the record that many (myself included) consider the high-water mark of their career, even after courting a major-label contract and expanding their songwriting past tired themes and musicianship. Their second full-length, So Wrong, It’s Right, is indeed their best work, but why?
Right off the start, we’re launched into a dozen tracks with undeniable vibrancy and incredible hooks. “This Is How We Do” sets up the band as a fun-loving group of dudes as drums pound out their best impression of punk and guitars slice and simmer. It’s clear that while Gaskarth might yell that they’re “the locals who went postal,” it’s clear that All Time Low is a pop band (dare I say boy band?) first, with a steady current of punk tenacity nipping at their heels and touching up their instrumentals with more grit. See the chorus of “The Beach,” where lines like “Well, they can take, take, take the kids from the summer/But they’ll never, never, never take the summer from me” aren’t far from that territory at all.
Despite this, I can’t deny that “Six Feet Under the Stars” is a modern pop-punk classic, complete with erratic percussion and pulsating synth work a la blink-182’s “All the Small Things.”
It’s a love letter to their hometown and the world that surrounds growing up — which isn’t new or notable — but the one-two punch of double-tracked vocals (which don’t creep up to oversaturate this song as they do on others) and a variety of tempo changes and mood swings keep this entry in the pop-punk playbook safe from growing stale.
I won’t discount the power of the record’s lone (but deliciously necessary) ballad, “Remembering Sunday,” either, which features incredible guest vocals from Automatic Loveletter’s Juliet Simms.
It offers a storytelling side to the group that’s superficially explored earlier in the tracklisting, but clearly shows a band wrestling with neuroses beyond their age.
Sure, every pop-punk record has duds, and So Wrong, It’s Right is no stranger to slowdowns. “Vegas” and “Stay Awake” could easily be the same song, and the sequencing of the LP smushes them up against each other. “Come One, Come All” forecasts the miniature therapy session that would become 2009’s Nothing Personal, but its lyrical content seems cloying on a record that has, for the most part, dealt with love, loss, and booze. I learned what Jagermeister was from this record, not how to deal with my inner demons.
Despite being overshadowed by far-better albums in the genre, So Wrong, It’s Right is air-tight in its production values and its encapsulating of welcome nostalgia. This record has blared out of various car speakers for seven years, and although the drivers have shifted from my poor mother to a recent crush who shamelessly sang along, its appeal never lessened with the windows down and me steadily growing up. This record helped me make friends when I moved to a town (ironically) an hour from Baltimore, and also into my college dorm weeks after seeing them live.
I’m glad that I’ve heard positive experiences with this record from other voices that probably didn’t learn its lyrics in their underwear. That would be an all time low.
Surface noise assaults the start and end of both sides, and it’s a shame that pops and clicks mangle with the delicate bell intro of “Holly (Would You Turn Me On?).” Nevertheless, it’s a crisp-sounding pressing besides that, with the undulating dynamics of “Remembering Sunday” never becoming too quiet or too overbearing when the crescendo finally hits. Given Hopeless’ lackluster pressings in the pop-punk game within the past couple years — see any configuration of The Greatest Generation — this is refreshing.
So Wrong, It’s Right could have been presented through the standard protocol for Hot Topic reissues, but the printed inner sleeve is a nice touch. It duplicates the lyric booklet from the original CD artwork on one side, and displays album credits on the other. Other than that, it’s given a pretty basic presentation, with the outer sleeve being lifted directly from 2007.
The album was pressed on a Hot Topic-exclusive “clear” orange with white splatter, limited to 1,000 copies. The end result matches the album artwork’s sunny attitude quite well. Surprisingly, a digital download card is included, and given the album’s wide availability, I wasn’t expecting that at all.
It’s hard to tell if All Time Low will ever eclipse So Wrong, It’s Right with a better record. Sure, there will always be missteps on any record in a genre that isn’t known for its perfection, but this album is as close as this band has gotten. Hot Topic’s pressing had surprisingly solid sound quality, while a digital download code is a nice bonus.
“The Beach,” “Six Feet Under the Stars” and “Remembering Sunday”