Label: Mercury Records
When you think Yellowcard, you think Ocean Avenue. Released in July 2003, the album sold two million copies, spawned three hit singles, earned the band an MTV Video Music Award, received platinum certification and catapulted Yellowcard to the forefront of the thriving pop-punk scene.
The problem is – they couldn’t stay there.
In January 2006, the band diverted from their commercially viable sound with the release of Lights and Sounds. The album received mixed reviews and alienated fans of Ocean Avenue. In many ways, the band never recovered.
Three albums and an extended hiatus later, Yellowcard returns with Southern Air. Produced by Neal Avron (Fall Out Boy, New Found Glory, Linkin Park), the album evokes memories of summer nights, girlfriends and adolescence. In other words, it calls Ocean Avenue to mind.
But this album isn’t perfect. There are several noticeable flaws.
A number of songs (“Awakening”, “Sleep in the Snow”, “Southern Air”) unnecessarily extend past the 3:30 mark. Given the experience and commercial success of producer Neal Avron, this is disappointing.
Violinist and founding member Sean Mackin (whose presence was unmistakable on Ocean Avenue) goes relatively unnoticed throughout much of Southern Air. At times, his inclusion appears to be the product of obligation, rather than necessity.
There are also moments (“A Vicious Kind”) that suggest Yellowcard is stubbornly resisting the urge to write a hook-laden, pop-punk record. In these moments, the listener is cheated.
But when the band gets it right, it’s terrific.
The massive pre-chorus/chorus combination on “Sleep in the Snow” showcases the band at their absolute best. The record’s lead single, “Always Summer”, combines the abrupt pre-chorus of “Way Away” with the nostalgic post-chorus of “Ocean Avenue”. The result is a surefire summer hit.
Though lyrically childish, “Here I Am Alive” is destined for radio play with its motivational themes and punchy chorus. The acoustic “Ten” details a crippling miscarriage and could be this generation’s version of Ben Folds Five’s “Brick”. The album’s closer, “Southern Air”, contains a scream-along chorus tailor-made for screen names and summer road trips.
In short, Southern Air is the album Yellowcard should have released in the summer of 2005. It possesses the hooks and choruses of Ocean Avenue with the aggression and intensity the band embraced on Lights and Sounds.
And though Southern Air speaks of a band reluctant to fully embrace a pop-punk designation, its high points suggest the band is capable of regaining the genre’s illustrious throne.
The ball’s in their court now.