The last time Off With Their Heads (OWTH) released new music was their 2013 album Home. After seeing the band support Against Me! In Melbourne and having never listened to them before, I gave Home a listen as soon as it was released and almost instantly OWTH became my favourite band. Over the past 6 years a lot as happened for OWTH and their lead singer Ryan Young; a nervous breakdown, constant touring, the successful Anxious & Angry Podcast – morphing into a record label, online store and screen printing business – and an acoustic album in 2016. Similarly, a lot has happened for me; I stopped drinking heavily, graduated university, got a good job, fell in love and got married and don’t need the music of OWTH in the same way I used to. That said, it’s been a long, long wait for the diehard fans of OWTH, but finally – after 6 years – there is a new album “Be Good”.
The album artwork is brighter than their older music, featuring a scene of women in 1940’s style dresses, enjoying the sun on a beach, while the smoke stack of a power plant looms over them in the background. The first pressing vinyl is released in “Pollution” or “Blue Sky” colour-ways and it feels like a choose your own adventure. Interestingly the Blue Sky vinyl sold out first, giving an indication of optimism in the community while I had to remain true to the reason I love OWTH; the honesty, raw pain and helplessness they sing with – buying the pollution vinyl. As soon as the opening track plays it becomes apparent that this album is not a positive and is not a choose your own adventure, it is filled with the same emotion and hurt as all OWTH work.
The opening track, titled “Disappear”, is the most different OWTH song that I can recall. It starts with raw vocals by Ryan backed with only very minor guitar, building slightly from the 30 second mark before Ryan repeats the opening lyrics 1 minute in this time screaming, “I SHOULD HAVE SEEN THIS FROM THE START” and from then the song is recognizably OWTH. As “Disappear” comes to an end, it flows seamlessly into the title track “Be Good” indicating there is a definite and intended flow to this album; all the more reason to listen to it on vinyl. “Be Good” opens with The Arrivals’ style drum rolls, building up to even more screaming by Ryan as he declares “I can’t take anymore, I just want out RIGHT NOW”. As I write this review I’m reading the lyrics to “Be Good” for the first time and as I hear Ryan sing the words that I’m reading I get goosebumps. For how much better Ryan has been doing since the release of “Home”, this song describes the intense toll that so many years of severe depression and anxiety have taken on his mental health. It is a song about doing all you can to be good and make a positive impact, but it is also a song about being exhausted and destroyed from years of mental illness; “I had assumed I would have been gone by now – but the ship has weathered the storm – and the feeling of defeat that lies underneath is still alive and on it’s course – I’m destroyed”.
Half way through the album, at “Take Me Away” the album has returned to the softer and quieter sound that was present on “Disappear”. This time the softer sound hangs around for about half the song, on and off, as Ryan sings about needing space to figure things out; I’m speculating here but it feels like it is about the breakdown that led to the start of the Anxious & Angry Podcast and getting proper help for his mental health issues. Up next is “Tear Me Apart” and while the song naming convention is similar, there is real flow between the two songs. While “Take Me Away” is an introspective look at how Ryan felt at a particular point in time, “Tear Me Apart” is welcoming external criticism of his behaviours, acknowledging he deserved them at the time. Doubling down on my speculation, assuming I was correct about “Take Me Away”, this song would seem to about the aftermath of his breakdown and deserving being torn apart by his bandmates and girlfriend.
The 8th song “Let It All” is a return to the OWTH sound from their 2007 album “All Things Move Toward Their End” – I think this is caused by the distorted recording sound along with the return to a more melodic sound. I’m not sure what it is about this song but it is probably the funnest song on the album to listen to, there’s something about the chorus “inside for far too long, pulling my strings – singing my songs” which is extremely enjoyable to listen to and sing along to. The second last song, “Locking Eyes” is the most consistently slow and quiet song on the album. It is a song of loss, of losing someone who kept coming back until they have been pushed one too many times. As Ryan screams “I know its all my fault – I know I deserve it all” over soft music, the pain in his voice is palpable. From here, the album fades into the final song, “Death”, which is the only instrumental that I know of OWTH ever doing as it carries on the sound of “Locking Eyes” for close to another 3 minutes as the album fades out.
Ryan and the rest of OWTH get full marks on growth and development on this album, it is clearly different to their other music and one could argue more mature. For me, it doesn’t quite live up to the urgency of “Home” but it could just be that I don’t need the album as much as I needed “Home” when I first heard it. “Be Good” is for OWTH fans new and old, but even more than that it is for Ryan and the band members, and nothing we as listeners can say about the album will change that this is what they needed at this time. It was well worth the 6 year wait, and I’ll be happy to wait for more.