All Time Low have been gone for three years. That’s nothing really out of the ordinary, considering there were three-year gaps between some previous albums, but Tell Me I’m Alive feels like there’s a lot more going on behind the scenes. This is the first album the Maryland crew have delivered since the pandemic, and the loneliness seeping through the cracks of the album is palpable. Thankfully, these viscous drops of insecurity make for an absolutely blinding record that All Time Low fans are going to adore.
All Time Low released their last record, Wake Up, Sunshine, just a matter of weeks into the pandemic. As a result, the casual and poppy record felt out of place in the world it was borne into (even though the album was full of bangers).
In the years that followed, the pop-punkers have no doubt reflected on the trauma they experienced throughout the early 2020s, and it’s easy to single out.
The band have already released a few singles from the record (Tell Me I’m Alive, Sleepwalking, Modern Love, et al) so fans will likely know what kind of vibe they’re getting into, but they won’t be prepared for the record’s best songs.
Calm Down played out like an emotionally-charged character-driven theatre show. Frontman Alex Gaskarth’s soaring vocals demonstrate understandable anxiety while the rhythmic drum and bass bed closes in – to a suffocating degree. Despite this subject material and composition, it creates a pumped-up anthem that will certainly become a cathartic experience for listeners.
As usual, Gaskarth’s vocals are front-and-centre on Tell Me I’m Alive. His distinctive, powerful, and elegant voice is ever-present throughout the record, and it is showcased beautifully in its final track, Lost Along The Way. In an odd kind of way, Gaskarth demonstrates nostalgia for the beginning of the 2020s (“Can we start this record over?”) before he knew how bad it was going to get. In not-so-subtle ways, he yearns, again, for connection (“Solitary and confined / lost my way lost my mind,” and “Now I’m reaching out / can you find me now?”). However sombre the track is, it’s yet another powerful testament to the band’s songwriting prowess in that they can turn such melancholy lyrics into a wonderful bliss.
That isn’t to say that the actual music falls flat in Tell Me I’m Alive – quite the opposite; and fans will already know this after devouring Sleepwalking and Tell Me I’m Alive for weeks (no doubt loving the Blink-182 crossed with Avril Lavigne vibes). Kill Ur Vibe delivers a wonderful millennial-styled alt-rock symphony while New Religion gives a (sort of?) peek into what All Time Low would look like if they went Country. Sonically, these tracks feel like they lean towards the glory days of Nothing Personal and So Wrong, It’s Right. There’s some pop-fusion in there, for sure, but it’s cutting enough to not take away from the interesting musicianship of the band.
Tell Me I’m Alive’s lyrical content is where it’s at, though. And there is nothing better on the album than Are You There? Emotionally fuelled and viscerally poetic, the lyrics tell the story of someone down and out, begging for a connection after a drug binge tapers off. This is All Time Low back at full strength, and – like all the greatest All Time Low songs – Are You There? is exciting, dance-worthy, and heartbreaking all at the same time. And there are other examples of this throughout the record. Everyone can relate to The Way You Miss Me (“Even though I’m doing fine / nothing’s really fine”). Meanwhile, the deeply personal English Blood, American Heartache, could be used as introspective therapy for fans who might need it (“If I’m beyond repair / that’s just a part of me”).
All Time Low have always seemed, to me, like the perfect mouthpiece for their generation. Their signature brand of “wilfully ignorant dance music crossed with pop-punk anthems” is once again present in Tell Me I’m Alive. And it is some of their best work. I can’t wait to see these songs played live, because the band have really put their heart into these tracks.
All Time Low – Tell Me I’m Alive is out Friday.