Sound — 8
For those who were fans of Yellowcard's multi-platinum Ocean Avenue or the next CD Lights And Sounds, the Jacksonville band's latest release should be a satisfying follow-up. Paper Walls never strays too far away from the pop punk sound that has endeared Yellowcard to fans, but to the band's credit there are also a few unexpectedly creative turns along the way. While the lyrics do tend to focus on what you'd probably expect -- namely relationships -- the guitar riffs and high-energy vocals never allow the songs to get bogged down with the love talk. The band chose one of the best tracks, The Takedown, as its opener. The guitar-heavy intro is hugely effective in starting it all out, and when you hear a second guitar join in to harmonize, it almost allows you forget that Yellowcard is just a pop punk band. What is truly Yellowcard's ace in the hole is Sean Mackin's violin work. The violin takes on all sorts of personalities throughout the course of Paper Walls, and it almost sounds like a keyboard-guitar hybrid in The Takedown. When you combine that with great harmonies and solid guitar work, the track immediately stands out. Although the majority of the tracks on the album follow a fairly typical pop punk format, Dear Bobbie is unusual enough that you wouldn't expect it to show up on most rock albums today. It starts out as a bare bones acoustic track and tells the tale of vocalist Ryan Key's grandfather, who reads a love letter to his wife of 58 years. You'll hear the weathered, but gentle vocals of the main character talking about his wife, but vocalist Ryan Key still sings much of the song. Dear Bobbie is easily the most genuine song on the album, and it's refreshing to know that Key was inspired enough to write a song about his grandparents. Ryan Mendez definitely stepped up his guitar work on the album, and it's great to hear him go all-out a few times on lengthy solos. But there are also moments that are just as worthwhile when Mendez is merely transitioning to a final chorus (Fighting) or providing backing for a big finale (Shrink The World). As far as the vocals go, Key's phrasing does tend to get repetitive at times, but there is enough going on otherwise to keep things interesting. And to Key's credit, when he's able to get out of the repetitive rut, he can come through with some powerful vocals.
Lyrics — 7
The lyrics on Paper Walls are standard material for Yellowcard, and the majority of songs do tend to revolve around relationships. While the band's fans should have no problem with the themes, some listeners might think it's all a bit too emo-friendly. Fighting is just one example of a song in which Key is grappling with his emotions. He sings, What am I fighting for? There must me something more; For all these words I've said; Do you feel anything? While plenty of artists write about similar themes, these particular lyrics just sound a bit too familiar. As was mentioned earlier, Dear Bobbie strays from the norm both musically and lyrically. In the moments when the grandfather character speaks, the typical rhyme scheme is broken and it's cool just to hear this elderly man speak from a love letter. He says, Dear Bobbie; Do you remember when you were young and very pretty? I do; I remember pleated skirts, black and white saddle shoes; Do you remember dancing that night? These are lyrics that are pretty much the antithesis of what you'll hear in the average pop punk song, and it's a welcome change.
Overall Impression — 8
The band tries out a few new things along the way, even including a children's choir at the introduction of Paper Walls. While the violin is also given some time in the spotlight, it wouldn't hurt to utilize the instrument a bit more. Sean Mackin does have some incredible violin lines hidden underneath the choruses and verses, and he deserves a chance to show what else he can do solo-wise. The first single Light Up The Sky actually doesn't represent the best of what's on Paper Walls. While the song has a nice guitar riff running throughout, the song is a bit too dull in comparison to other 12 tracks. It's true that Yellowcard's newest collection of songs won't break any new ground in the pop punk world, but the majority are actually a solid bunch of tunes that will likely be embraced by the band's fans.