REVIEW: The Front Bottoms – ‘Back On Top’

Back on Top feature image The Front Bottoms

Artist: The Front Bottoms
Album: Back On Top
Genre: Rock ’n’ frickin’ roll
Label: Fueled By Ramen

Look, 2015 has been a weird, divisive year for the alternative music community. Some of the scene’s heaviest tough guys are bringing back the Linkin Park sound for a new generation of radio-listeners, Riff Raff played the gosh-darn Warped Tour, and this thing is somehow legal.

In a year of such documented turmoil, it’s refreshing to see an under-appreciated act like The Front Bottoms sign with a high-profile record label like Fueled By Ramen without any pushback from their fanbase…

Okay, well that’s just one ex-

Hey, let’s not jump to any con-

Okay, okay, point taken. To be fair, it’s tough to imagine what the band that writes songs like “Taking My Uzi To The Gym” would do with major label cash. Fair.

Luckily, the band’s Fueled By Ramen debut, Back On Top, isn’t the sell-out album to end all sell-out albums that so many internet trolls were likely hoping for. In fact, it’s basically the opposite; Back On Top takes everything we’ve grown to love about this band over the years and pushes it into new sonic avenues that prove that they’re not a one-trick pony with an acoustic guitar.

While wading through an alternative music landscape ruled by emotionally heavy downers, The Front Bottoms have always stood as a beacon for positivity and fun. That’s still the main theme here, with the bulk of the track listing straddling the line between huge sing-along choruses and danceable melodies. Look no further than “Laugh Till I Cry,” which hits all the major steps required in a certified jam. It’s certainly the most similar to the band’s previous LPs with a mostly acoustic pop structure and a chorus melody that’s sure to get stuck in your head for weeks, but the band shakes things up with some jamming rock instrumentation, a surprisingly deep set of lyrics, and a motorcycle start-up sample for good measure. It’s got a bit more going on than usual, but it’s undeniably in line with the band’s general songwriting style.

However, Back On Top is at its most memorable when the band stretch their creative wings. Acoustic instruments are thrown out the window for rock and roll jams “West Virginia” and “2YL,” the latter of which features an irresistible horn section that more than makes up for the lackluster lyrical content. “Summer Shandy” does the whole “mid-2000s Weezer featuring silly Rivers Cuomo lyrics” thing better than Weezer ever did it, and “Cough It Out” evokes memories of “Twin Sized Mattress” from 2013’s Talon Of The Hawk with a more serious tone, beautifully layered instrumentals, and a slower tempo. “Historic Cemetery” ends with a guest verse from New Jersey rapper GDP, and despite how questionable that sounds in premise, I promise you that it only adds to the song. Elsewhere, “HELP” is ready for radio with a safe pace, a memorable chorus with a built-in sing-along section, and an extremely tasteful synth line. The talents of multi-instrumentalist Ciaran O’Donnell are certainly welcome in each of these songs, and his added studio freedom is noticeable. His additions in the form of keys and horns add a few layers of dynamics that were missing on previous LPs.

Despite the lack of any real duds to be found on the album’s 11-song length, Back On Top’s strongest moment is, without question, the thoroughly exciting “The Plan (Fuck Jobs).” Die-hards should be familiar with “The Plan,” originally known as “Fuck, Jobs,” which has been played for well over a year in the band’s live set. It’s fully intact on Back On Top, and it’s now the logical starting point for the band’s discography. Everything there is to love about The Front Bottoms is present on this song, and done best at that. It’s simultaneously profane and profound, featuring lyrics like “I fuckin’ hate the comments, why do you feel you have to talk? / Nobody asked for your opinion, your sick, sad way of jerking off” and “My body is a temple, how much you think I could get for it?” After a few profanity-laced verses and a wonderful build-up in the bridge, the song soon erupts into a huge rock ending with steel drum, layered keyboards, hand claps, horns, and the refrain of “when my mind is uncertain, my body decides.” During moments like “The Plan,” (which, let’s face it, will forever be referred to as “Fuck Jobs”), you remember that you’re listening to The Front Bottoms. All of the band’s signature energy and sense of humor is on display, but all of their members have clearly graduated songwriting school since Talon Of The Hawk.

Closer, “Plastic Flowers,” steers away from the upbeat fun, as it opens up with Sella singing “Should I go in? It’s been an hour / I’ll give a fake name and hang in the emergency room / They say the good thing about plastic flowers is you can spray them with any type of perfume,” over a church organ. Despite the song’s slightly depressing introduction, the track breaks out into a rock song that centers on the idea that things always get better, a message well-suited to the ten tracks of carefree fun that otherwise make up Back On Top. Sella breaks the tension with a spoken word monologue that truly made me laugh out loud the first time I heard it — for that reason, I won’t spoil it here. However, the monologue leads into another sing-along chorus to cap off the record, a moment that serves to remind how well-equipped this band is at crafting memorable melodies.

It’s hard to find much of a flaw with Back On Top. The lyrics in a few tracks leave a bit to be desired, like the lazy “Our love’s the only thing that could matter / take me up and up like a ladder” in the pre-chorus of “2YL” and the slightly awkward “I’ve got them bad boy blues, baby” chorus of “Summer Shandy,” but both of those tracks bleed an energy that more than make up for it. There’s certainly room for improvement, but that doesn’t detract from the album’s overall value. Back On Top could certainly be this band’s Some Nights, the album that shoots them from cult-scene favorites to band that your mom knows about. Maybe that’s what selling out means in 2015 (and Twitter certainly seems to support that) but if that’s the case, I’m happy that The Front Bottoms sold their souls to the major label devils, because Back On Top is their best work by a large margin. I can’t wait to hear “Fuck Jobs” in a Super Bowl commercial for Pepsi early next year.

SCORE: 9.3/10

John Bazley

John Bazley was raised in central New Jersey by the romantic aura of the Asbury Park beachfront, punk rock, and Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4. He is still trying to figure all of this stuff out.

In addition to UTG, John has contributed to Alternative Press and Full Frequency Media. Follow him on Twitter for pictures of his dog.
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    what the fuck u talking about. i been listening to them since their first album came out and it was so good. this new shit fucking sucks. back on top my ass. they are ON THE BOTTOM of my favorite bands now. HA!

    ps. broan looks like a neanderthal now


    u probably just started listening to them john bazley. u probably like all time low and the jonas brothers thats probably why u like this album. go listen to paramore. ur review suck.

  • Lizza

    I love TFB’s new sound. I love their old stuff too. I don’t understand why so many people are upset with them? Brian, Ciaran, Tom and Matt are finding success! This is beautiful! They’re evolving, and developing. No one is static. I’m very happy the band is finding a new voice they feel comfortable with. It shows growth and effort, and I can’t wait to see them in Columbus this month.