Sound — 5
From naming themselves after a Blink-182 song to coining the vaguely militaristic motto, "Defend pop punk," it's easy to tell that Man Overboard approach their brand of pop punk with a traditionalist passion. With that ardency being a key selling point to the genre's emphatic fanbase, Man Overboard's 2010 debut album, "Real Talk," was well-received for its dedicated, albeit simple, appeal to pop punk and emo - containing, among other things, a few nods to Weezer, a ballad in the spirit of Dashboard Confessional, and a dual vocal force akin to Alkaline Trio. Their quickly-gained fame would promptly get the band signed to Rise Records, where they'd release their follow-up self-titled album, as well as their third album, "Heart Attack," which peaked at #2 on the Billboard Hard Rock Albums chart.
Though their fame has still been steadily increasing, Man Overboard's pop punk sound has been keeping up a dependably homogenous constancy, for better or for worse. Being aware of this, the band has spoken about attempting to appeal to more sonic variance in their fourth album, "Heavy Love," which ends up being partly true. Some new effects are found in the guitar elements (like the flickering guitar layer and panning guitar gallops in "The Note," the phaser effect in "Splinter," and the shrill noise guitar fills in "Cliffhanger"), and some hints of harsh vocal layers are peppered in the melodic hardcore cut of "Cliffhanger" and the swingy "Invisible."
But for the most part, "Heavy Love" is more of the same, which mostly results in dullness. Though Man Overboard still show they can write some decent songs with the basic repertoire (like the split-stereo verses that converge into unified choruses in "Deal," and the heavily-stocked outro song "A Love That I Can't Have"), they're outweighed by the bland, business-as-usual pop punk songs of "Borderline," "Reality Check," "She's in Pictures," and "For Jennie" - even changing up the measurements would have at least mixed their basic recipe up a bit, like they had dabbled with in "Heart Attack." Part of the album also acts as an amalgam of things heard from previous Man Overboard albums - the Weezer-style distortion heard in the opening "Now That You're Home" is a late continuation of the Weezer-inspired stuff heard in "Real Talk," the speedy "Anything" calls back to the melodic hardcore flavor heard in "Man Overboard," and the hefty number of guitar tracks in "Splinter" continue the thoroughly-layered arrangements from "Heart Attack" - but with their catalog being on a relatively small timeframe, it feels more like drab déjà vu rather than nifty throwback.
Lyrics — 4
In similar fashion to the band's unchanging formula of pop punk, Man Overboard's lyrics still stick to the same topics and emotions in "Heavy Love," and now being the fourth time around, they're starting to simply repeat themselves. Still entrenched in perpetual heartache, the emo demeanor touches all the basic aspects of lovesickness and loserdom, like the bittersweet trial of long-distance love and "out of sight, out of mind" disconnection in "Borderline" and "She's in Pictures" (as well as the attempt to reconnect in "Now That You're Home"), post-breakup emptiness in "The Note" and "Invisible," and the self-deprecating confessions from a twenty-something-year-old loser in "Cliffhanger." With all of the aforementioned being covered before throughout Man Overboard's past three albums, the lyrics in the album end up perpetuating even more staleness in the band's style than the music itself does.
Overall Impression — 5
As much as Man Overboard may be concerned with "defending pop punk," their devotion to sticking deep inside the genre's trenches only renders them more noticeably stagnant at this point. The few tricks employed to dress the same pop punk bones differently in "Heavy Love" fail to diversify things, and though the album also runs the gamut of pop punk subsets, it's ultimately just Man Overboard running in circles within the same home-range. Their commitment to traditional pop punk and homage-paying to influential pop punk acts may have been a viable path when they began, but if Man Overboard want to continue being a positive force in the genre they love, they're going to need to push the genre forward (or at least substantially attempt to) instead of straddling familiarity.