Sound — 6
Hailing from New Jersey and waving their "Defend Pop-Punk" flag with pride, Man Overboard lives up to their (stolen) name once again in "Heart Attack." Having employed a vaguely "Enema of the State" sensibility with "Real Talk" and maturing their riff-less strumming slightly for the self-titled (recalling "Take Off Your Pants & Jacket"), pop-punk's most shameless plagiarists now take a step into the formula of Blink-182's self-titled. The sound has darkened, the material is almost all taking itself with a rather stern attitude, and yet Man Overboard still struggles to move beyond their heroes. Stylistically seated firmly among acts like The Wonder Years and Fireworks, Man Overboard doesn't stray far from the sonic stereotypes of "dark" pop-punk. The guitar tones are occasionally reminiscent of Blink-182 (it seems the band just can't resist doing so), though more strongly suggest Relient-K's "MmHmm" and some of Good Charlotte's mid-2000s work. The titular cut might as well be a cover of the former, with a chorus straight out of "Five Score and Seven Years Ago." "White Lies" certainly goes into interesting territory, with driven guitars and slightly more depth than usual in the drum work, but the real gem here is "Suppy." Nowhere on "Heart Attack" but here are the early days of pop-punk (think "Insomnia" or "Dude Ranch") recalled with such joy. It's far from genius, but coming from a band with "Defend Pop-Punk" as a logo, it's a relief to have a moment or two consisting of more parts punk than pop. Generally, "Heart Attack" is a "rinse, repeat" of the pop-punk/emo scene circa 2005, right down to the acoustic-then-rock-with-some-piano (sound familiar?) closer "Wide Awake." The instrumentation is (essentially) nonstop guitar/drum focus with only a few moments of intricacy; apart from sprinkles of melody in cuts like "Hoodie Song," the most exciting moments are plain old palm-muted power chords. There certainly aren't many moments of drooling awfulness, but it's a bit of a struggle to make sense of the noise, especially with a record that dares attention spans everywhere at about forty-five minutes of horribly redundant structure. As difficult as it is to imagine a fourteen-part piece running at this length (again, reminiscent of the Blink-182 self-titled) feeling as long as this does, "Heart Attack" really does drag. Somewhere after "Defend", it seems the band forgets all what makes the "Pop-Punk" work: bravery, fun, and humor. Of those three, Man Overboard earns "bravery" for daring to copy their heroes' every move. Apart from that, "Heart Attack" flat-lines.
Lyrics — 5
Not convinced? The album opens with a passing name-drop: Blink's own "Fighting The Gravity." From then on, it's about the same level of variation as with the music. Girls come up occasionally, loneliness is alluded to at odd moments, and the singer plays guilty hero with "When I prayed for you, there wasn't much to say" and promising not to "take chances with our friendship." It's all emotionally-driven (apparently that's the "it" topic for pop-punk after 2003): "You miss yourself'/You miss your family" and the like are commonplace. The material is same-old, same-old again, almost as many nods to later, "emo"-ish Relient-K as there are to Blink-182. Even when they seem to step into territory entirely their own, Man Overboard's writing comes off as awkward: "You wanna see something creepy?", etc. Nothing nauseating (most of the time), but also nothing to celebrate. Singers Zac Eisenstein and Nik Bruzzese have less in common with Tom DeLonge and Mark Hoppus than with the singers of Fireworks, Relient-K, and so on. It's the same vague melodies (truth be told, the lyrical rants often hinder any potential for catchy vocal melodies) with intertwined harmony that can be heard from a hundred other bands, and the lack of charisma in both takes Man Overboard out of the running for the better instances of this formula. It's actually difficult to distinguish the two - again, little in common with the perfect unity of DeLonge and Hoppus. Anyone already listening to nasally (post) pop-punk will feel at home, but the frustrating lack of variety and character really hurt "Heart Attack."
Overall Impression — 6
Perhaps the "Defend Pop-Punk" slogan isn't something that should be looked too deeply into, but for an act evidently head-over-heels for the kings of the genre, Man Overboard really seems to have missed the point. Why does the album consist almost entirely of the self-reprehension on "White Lies" and none of the fun of "Dookie"? Sure, Blink-182's self-titled and "American Idiot" were broad and emotional, but there was an underlying humor and light-hearted self-awareness that Man Overboard just doesn't seem to have. "Heart Attack" has more in common with Sunny Day Real Estate than Sum 41, and without half the talent of either. Unlike some of the more spirited 2010s pop-punk acts, Man Overboard is just bleak and redundant. As such, it seems only too easy to pass "Heart Attack" in favor of The Wonder Years' latest.