Every now and then, an album makes its way to my review inbox and instantly grabs me, forcing me to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard in this case). Music that immediately rekindles my faith that the pop-punk genre is not slowly going the way of the buffalo.
Man Overboard‘s “The Human Highlight Reel” is not one of those albums. Not to pull back the curtain a little bit or anything, but I’ve been sitting on this review for a long time, hoping to finally “get it.” The album gets fairly high marks from other places around the interwebs, so I’ve listened to it more than the average album, trying to figure out what I’m missing. Quite honestly? I still don’t get it.
“The Human Highlight Reel” is an album comprised of the New Jersey based band’s EPs, demos, B-Sides from their “Real Talk” album and a cover of a Promise Ring song for good measure. Musically, the included tracks are about as tight as you are going to find on the poppier end of the pop-punk spectrum. Well-polished, finely tuned offspring of the early Blink/Sum generation. The rhythm section is tight, and the guitars occupy the middle of the road, just the right combination of melodic hooks one one side and distortion (but not too much) and aggression on the other side to balance the sound. Even the acoustic tracks are well-played, which speaks to the talent of the band going forward. Pulling off the acoustic punk thing is quite often met with mixed results, but Man Overboard pull it off quite well. Production-wise, the album sounds good, but almost too good at times. It comes across as being a little too polished, too “studio.” This is especially the case with the lead vocals and their supporting harmonies.
The big problem with Man Overboard, at least on this release, comes from the album’s lyrical content. “The Human Highlight Reel” seems to be geared for the ‘tween crowd (and the early ‘tween crowd at that). Admittedly, I know nothing of the personal background of either Nik or Zac, the band’s co-lead singers. That said, the angst and despair that they sing of seems to come from the young, upper-middle-class suburban mall-punk set. I spent most of my listens to the album wondering if and/or why I cared about plight. The themes are not all that relatable, at least not if you are old enough to have a driver’s license, worked a job, made it out of middle school, etc.
Case in point: the album’s fifth track, “Five Girls Pizza” centers its chorus on this little nugget: “Fuck it, hang up/ it’s not easy like it was in the fifth grade.” Maybe this is the band going for “tongue-in-cheek,” but there is nothing on the remainder of the album that would give credence to that idea at any real level. Take the very next track, “Gluestick,” for example. The track speaks of love lost, but gets no deeper than “you and I were meant to be the glue that held the world together.” I quite honestly expected the “No, I love you more” line to conclude with a “you hang up first/no you hang up first” call-and-response. Amy Lee of Evanescence would have been embarrassed to write lyrics like that a decade ago.
I’m not saying every band has to write lyrics like Greg Graffin or Chris Hannah (or even Joey Cape or Ken Casey). If you’re into younger pop-punk music (accent on the ‘pop’), “The Human Highlight Reel” is probably worth a listen. But if your musical tastes, especially surrounding lyrical content, have grown since middle school, you can probably skip it.