O V E R V I E W
Genre classification and labeling is a necessary evil. By that, I mean it’s extremely helpful in guiding music purveyors to find sounds and styles that they like and it’s easier for the vast majority to associate those tones with a blanket genre or subgenre versus trying to understand and remember all of the nuances that correlate to each genre and even more specifically, the artists themselves. It gets trickier when bands shift their sound, either in hopes of expanding their current identity or finding a new one as it then becomes inaccurate to throw such a blanket statement onto a band. It gets messy saying “well band x was y genre on z album and then on the next one it changed”, but for purists sake, this is typically how discussions go, especially on the internet. I bring this entire point up as UK pop punk act Boston Manor broke onto the scene with their debut album that was for all intents a rather typical sounding album within the genre and are now set to release their drastically different, yet extremely immaculate sophomore effort, Welcome To The Neighbourhood that shows the complexities of genre classification.
F L O W / L O N G E V I T Y / O R I G I N A L I T Y
Out of the many pieces that make up Welcome To The Neighbourhood, the albums flow and the originality in sound are two of the stronger ones. When Boston Manor transitions from one track to the next, the prior track never feels as if it was dissuaded or tossed off; instead, WTTN gives you a feeling that it lives within the follow-up track, even if it’s in the slightest of ways. Varying utilization of sinister sounding synthesizers that help create an overall ambiance and atmosphere to the whole album on top of the pop punk mixed with a strong base of grunge are key factors in delivering such a strong cohesive sound. This approach also helps make Welcome To The Neighbourhood feel extremely fresh sounding — which, when creating an album that lives more in a moody, emo realm that’s been visited many times before — is an extremely necessary step.
The downside to a bleaker sound is that it can eventually become slightly grating. Upon the first few listens, Welcome To The Neighbourhood drew me in and I was entranced, but after further replays, it started to feel just a little long in the tooth. At 13 tracks and just over 43 minutes in runtime, there isn’t anything overtly long, but there’s a feeling that it slightly overstays its welcome and would’ve been better off a track or two shorter or more refinement on a few tracks. This shouldn’t be seen as entirely negative though as Boston Manor have a setting and a story to tell and the execution of which is accomplished best in the current format.
V O C A L S / I N S T R U M E N T A T I O N
Much like every other component of Welcome To The Neighbourhood, vocals and instrumentation both have a radically different approach compared to its predecessor. On the vocal side, Henry Cox brings forth more versatility with a much different tone to it — one that ultimately is a better move as it fits the atmosphere that Boston Manor created throughout the entirety of WTTN. An easy display of this comes right away with the title track, which sees a lower, softer sung approach that plays off the haunting backing instrumental and then is followed up by “Flowers in Your Dustbin”, a track that has much more grit and edge to it with ramped up intensity both musically and vocally. This approach remains throughout the album with the likes of “Funeral Party”, “Digital Ghost” and “Bad Machine” being familiar and unfamiliar all at the same time.
Even with a slate of singles released, it’s hard to really notice the different, distinct vibes that Welcome To The Neighbourhood provides. That’s why the elements contained within the opening track and the transition to the second track are so important. It’s the moment you really get to hear how not the album will sound sonically and remain cohesive, being one and the same. The shift towards a more grunge oriented pop punk sound roars loudly as distorted guitars and thunderous drums blast loudly through the speakers, intertwined with a darker vocal and lyrical approach. This is the style that WTTN derives from, especially with the likes of the appropriately dreary “England’s Dreaming”, the anthemic sounding “Bad Machine” or the hauntingingly creepy “FY1” distorted instrumental and one that the entire band absolutely nails to fit the aesthetic of their fictional Blackpool.
C O M P O S I T I O N / P R O D U C T I O N
In my eyes, its easy to say that the composition and production on Welcome To The Neighbourhood are not just the most important parts, but the best parts of the album. Taking a subject matter that many are all too familiar with but few want to seemingly dissect across an entire album, Boston Manor take what they know, where they grew up and what they are familiar with, and turn it on its head to highlight the flaws that exist in reality. As bleak as the album sounds, the setting is even bleaker and they truly do go hand in hand with each other, displaying a cohesion between storytelling and musicianship that is increasingly becoming rarer and rarer in the modern age.
To deliver such an encompassing story that draws listeners in, the production has to be up to snuff as well and WTTN has exactly what’s needed. Produced by Mike Sapone, this has an atypical style to it that ultimately fits what was required to get the most out of Boston Manor and their concepts within. The instrumentals and backing programming bring with it a vivid nature to them, one that’s not just incredibly crisp, but has imagination to it and helps the world come to life in a fuller, lusher soundscape — no matter how dark and dreary it actually is, while the varied vocal patterns entrap you within the world all thanks to a speaker blasting, crystal clear trance-like sound.
F I N A L T H O U G H T S
It’s easy to say this probably isn’t what most people expected Boston Manor to create after the incredible debut with Be Nothing, be the reality is that their sound has always swayed away from more typical pop punk. There’s always been a lingering alternative sound that dripped with elements from both emo and pop punk, and now the sound is more fully fleshed out and even dives into a grungier range. Taking this approach was the most appropriate route though, as the story told within on Welcome To The Neighbourhood would’ve been done a disservice in a lighter, airy sound. This is a band that clearly has multiple stories to tell from their own life experiences and has found a way to do it in a unique, distinctly shaped manner through their music that’s also derived from more than the usual ongoings of the genre and one that will continue to challenge the norm, setting the stage for other bands to do the same.