Sound — 6
The tardiness in which Sleeping With Sirens showed up to the emocore party was beyond fashionability (at the crossroads where the baton was handed off to the plethora of chugga-chugga metalcore acts), and by now, a successful blueprint for the band's post-hardcore styling was shamelessly easy to obtain, for better or for worse. Taking pages from Saosin, Chiodos, Emarosa, and plenty others, Sleeping With Sirens' 2010 debut album, "With Ears to See and Eyes to Hear," as well as their 2011 follow-up album, "Let's Cheers to This," were nothing new, but with decent instrumental skill and frontman Kellin Quinn's impeccable vocal talent and range (a worthy rival to Anthony Green), they were worth watching to see how they'd develop, and if they were worth carrying the post-hardcore torch for the new decade.
Evidently, Sleeping With Sirens weren't all that interested in carrying that torch themselves, and their third album, "Feel," would be a controversial attempt to transition into a more widespread, pop-heavy sound - perhaps this ought to have been expected with Quinn's ability to make any adequate topline infectiously sultry. Despite being the most commercially-successful record of the band thus far, "Feel" had plenty of jarring flaws to it; whether it was the album's overblown production value, or its clumsy execution of trying to juggle their post-hardcore roots with endeavors of rapcore, pop-punk, pop-metalcore and acoustic emo. But beyond seeing "Feel" as a leap or a stumble, Sleeping With Sirens were still left with having to give a concrete answer to what kind of band they were going to be: will they continue forward with pop rock, or go back down the path of post-hardcore?
Sleeping With Sirens still have yet to definitively choose an answer, but with the release of their fourth album, "Madness," the proof points to the band continuing to primp their pop rock side more than anything else, further making the band the new competition to bands like 5 Seconds Of Summer (which is even more obvious when you learn that the producer of the album, John Feldmann, was the same producer for 5SOS's debut album). Big-budget production is still the non-secret sauce to the band's songwriting: synths lavishly decorate pop rock tracks like "Gold," "Save Me a Spark," even toeing the line of EDM in "Left Alone"; and acoustic-led ballads like "The Strays," "November" and "Madness" are reinforced with canned strings. Thankfully, there are also moments that practice the "less is more" concept, and the friendly pop punk cuts of "Go Go Go," "Better Off Dead" and "Don't Say Anything" bring a refreshing and helpful straightforwardness to the album.
Those pop punk tracks are, at this point, the heaviest gear Sleeping With Sirens can genuinely execute without sullying the pop sheen they've been polishing for the past couple of years. But the band still wish to be how they were when they began, which results in the couple of unfitting emocore tracks, "Kick Me" (which, as the first track, is quite the misleading intro for the album as a whole) and "We Like It Loud." They're short, fast, loud and abrasive throwbacks to early-era Sleeping With Sirens, but all that these efforts do is clash with the rest of the album's commercial tone; and if Sleeping With Sirens really wanted to rehash their old style, the tracks here feel like a hollow attempt to do so.
Lyrics — 5
For the most part, the lyrical tropes in "Madness" are expected and digestible. Writing about relationships both sweet (in "Go Go Go") and sour (in "Left Alone" and "Don't Say Anything") has always been Quinn's bread and butter, and the uplifting anthem-fuel messages of "Save Me a Spark" and "Fly" fit fine with the poppy aesthetic of the songs they're affixed to. On the other hand, the anti-suicide message of "Better Off Dead" comes off as surface-scratching, and it also contains the line, "she doesn't know she's beautiful," which, whether wittingly or not, strongly references One Direction's "What Makes You Beautiful."
However, a fair portion of Quinn's lyrics, whether in subject or in tone, end up clashing with this further endeavor for a more accessible lyric style. Quinn's heavy-handed double-entendre of comparing a romantic interest to heroin in "Heroine" is more grimace-inducing than creatively cunning (how much should anyone be romanticizing heroin when plenty of musicians have overdosed?), and, as expected, the post-hardcore songs have post-hardcore-style lyrics to them; more specifically, self-addressing to the band's status. "Kick Me" alludes to those that condemned the band for traveling into pop rock territory (a message that was already relayed in the "Feel" track "Congratulations," albeit with much more pomp), and "We Like It Loud" is, like its musical style, a contradicting façade to what Sleeping With Sirens is today - even though Quinn shouts "sell us the world but we ain't selling out" on the song, with "Madness" ultimately pushing the band further into pop rock, how true could that statement possibly be?
Overall Impression — 5
Whereas "Feel" was full of meandering glitz and more famous cameos than a teen celebrity's sweet sixteen birthday party, one can tell that there's more direction to Sleeping With Sirens' pop side in "Madness," even in spite of the excessive embellishment. But while this refinement in pop rock is the most that's accomplished here, Sleeping With Sirens want to have their cake and eat it too - not only do they want to be a great pop rock band, but they still want to be that loud and frenetic post-hardcore band they began as. Whether you chalk it up to wishy-washiness or an ambitious but improbable journey towards a proper duality, their attempt to be both pop rock and post-hardcore in "Madness" results in a bipolar dissonance from front to back - it seems the album is, in fact, aptly named.