For better or worse, the Flatliners‘ new record, Inviting Light, represents the second sharp turn the Ontario band has taken away from what most fans have grown to know and love of its sound since its inception in 2002.
Originally a ska band, as evidenced by an early demo and their 2005 full-length debut, Destroy to Create, the Flatliners dropped their ska sound in 2007 when they signed with Fat Wreck Chords and released their full-blooded punk rock sophomore record, The Great Awake. The new sound was embraced by fans and it seemed like the band had found its niche.
Fast-forward three records and ten years later, though, and the Flatliners have traded in the popular two-and-a-half minute song with its brash, gravelly vocals, rapid-fire drums and jangly power chords for something of a cross between indie rock and a poor approximation of pop-punk bands like Alkaline Trio and Green Day.
Guitar, bass and drums have exchanged the harder-faster-louder model for a euphonic pop-driven sound, while Chris Cresswell’s characteristic growl takes a back seat to his “new-and-improved,” melodic vocals. The only thing recognizably Flatiners about this record is Cresswell’s voice, and that’s just because it happens to be distinctive on its own.
The record is replete with the gratuitous harmonies pop-punk is known for, but it doesn’t quite take the full leap into the peppy power-chord heaven because with lyrics like, “I hang my head for this legacy of embarrassment/ I usually sing along but tonight I bite my tongue clean off,” from “Hang My Head,” and, “May I inject to the writing on the wall/ Can I expect disappointment after all,” from “Unconditional Love,” (among many others) it seems to almost take itself too seriously for that.
Unfortunately it gets worse, because Inviting Light also suffers from what sounds like some heavy hands in the studio. Most notably, Cresswell’s voice is heavily distorted from stem to stern of this record, and it’s unclear why. This will undoubtedly add to the whiplash diehard fans experience in listening to it for the first time.
Another unexpected and unhappy note is a seriously questionable opening few bars to the record’s final track, “No Roads,” which sounds troublingly similar to Green Day’s “Letterbomb,” right down to its lyrics. The Flatliners’ track diverges completely from there, but that opening is close enough that Green Day’s attorneys might be seeing dollar signs.
The sonic change evident on Inviting Light has coincided with the band leaving Fat Wreck Chords, a label known for producing punk rock. Whether the move to Rise Records is relevant is strictly speculation, but either way, it’s safe to say that this change is a little more extreme than putting the skank beat on the shelf, and many fans may not warm to it as easily as they did when the band trended toward the straight-forward punk sound of the last decade.
Follow reporter Julie Parker at Twitter.com/jpwhatsername.