Although a lyrical triumph, 'Vacancy' never once pushes the Bayside's sonic envelope.
One of my fondest memories relating to Bayside is the time I interviewed vocalist Anthony Raneri a little over two years ago during the ‘Cult’ album cycle. The reason I remember it so fondly is because whilst I spoke with him, he was out shopping with his daughter and wife to decorate their new home. I couldn’t help but think, “Fuck, everything is coming up for this guy! Releasing one of their best albums yet and starting a happy family!” I was happy for him and his family and could only think how much this would positively affect his writing.
That memory, although still a fond one, is now one that feels weird to me. If you haven’t been up to date on the ins-and-outs of Bayside then it's best you know that Raneri is recently divorced from his wife. To look back on that phone call I had with him, overhearing his wife talk to their daughter and Raneri sometimes pausing to do the same, and relate it to now only two short years later where they’re separated is a cutting stroke of reality. Raneri spent much of his time after the divorce living in a Tennessee motel (that's pictured on the cover for 'Vacancy’) so he could be close to his daughter. This is the genesis and emotional focal point for the themes found on the band's latest record. And honestly, that makes ‘Vacancy’ hard to judge. How can I judge someone’s catharsis that is so important to them on a whole other level than a lot of other records I write about? But I’m going to persist, anyways. I’m going to talk about this record in the best way I possibly can.
So first thing’s first, Raneri’s lyrics are as per usual of a high caliber. There are so many golden gems littered throughout the record that highlight this somewhat torturous part of his life, and they're delivered so well that it’s scary. Lead single, ‘Pretty Vacant’, serves as a great moment for the record both thematically and sonically as it deals with Raneri’s struggle of being alone in such an honest and heartbreakingly perfect way, all while being wrapped up in the classic Bayside rock formula. The album’s openers, ‘Two Letters’ and ‘I’ve Been Dead All Day’ sound far too chirpy and positive to match their lyrics subject matter; the former dealing with the prefix of “ex” and the latter being fairly self-explanatory. ‘I’ve Been Dead All Day’ also contains the most blistering candid and gut-wrenching verse of 2016 with:
"Man and his wife to be, planning their event/One couldn’t contain themselves/The other was on the fence/So they silently agreed it’s best to practice and pretend/Cause keeping up appearances is key"
Don't miss a beat with our FREE daily newsletter
It’s easy to see that the lyrics serve as the main highlight of the record and are some of the most memorable and touching of the band’s entire career. That leaves the rest of the music and instrumentation to serve as a vehicle for these lyrics to be propelled in the listener's direction, but as such, the song writing side of things starts to suffer.
For where this record finds Raneri’s lyrics at their peak, 'Vacancy' finds the actual music at the exact same place that we have always had it. This record is just more Bayside. Nothing more, nothing less. There are obviously great songs on offer here that will sound absolutely fucking killer live come next month's tour, such as ‘It Doesn't Make It True’ and ‘I’ve Been Dead All Day’, with their beautiful choruses that pull at your emotions of joy, introspection and sadness all at once. However, there just isn’t enough of these kinds of standout, stellar and spectacular songs to keep the listener fully engaged every single second of the way.
See, I often found myself sitting right up at the various lyrical quips whereas rarely did that ever happen for any particular melodies or instrumental sections. I did fall utterly head over heels for the chorus melody on ‘It Doesn't Make It True’ though because it’s just as enticing as it aesthetically pleasing but other than that, this record is just the usual Bayside we’ve had for over fifteen years now. Now that doesn’t lose them any “points” per se; it just doesn’t add any, either. It’s not a criticism as much as it is a missed opportunity to do something really new, really fresh or widely experimental.
Let’s get one thing straight: ‘Vacancy’ is a great record. It really is. The lyrics are beautifully cathartic and confronting at times as well as being so poetically strung together. The musical backdrop to this story of divorce in the American south is still just as fantastic as ever but I can’t shake the feeling that there needs to be.. more to Bayside. See, this our seventh drink with the New York boys and I might I be the first to say that I think it’s time for a new type of drop before our next get-together. Regardless, ‘Vacancy’ is most definitely a record that you should not sleep on. So wake up, give this record a spin and let it break your heart in every way imaginable.
I’ve Been Dead All Day
Rumspringa (Heartbreak Road)
It Doesn’t Make It True
It’s Not As Depressing As It Sounds
'Vacancy' is out now via Hopeless Records...and it has been for a while. Oops.