Lifetime

Picture of Lifetime

Background

Lifetime - Background ©1993 New Age Records
1. You
2. Pieces
3. Myself
4. Thanks
5. Up
6. Bedtime
7. Old Friend
8. Ghost
9. Alive
10. Background

Hi there! Let's talk about emo for a second.

Now that the room has been cleared, allow me to begin: Many people view emo as being the most recent "with the fuck is this garbage?" rock genre in popular music, overtaking Nu Metal by just a swooped, straightened hair over a heavily painted eye. Scourge and anathema to most anybody who prides (and often defines) themselves on listening to some form of conventionally aggressive music, misconceptions, prejudices, and assumptions abound in almost any typical conversation in which emo is discussed. For many, it's simply much easier to dismiss an entire loosely-defined genre as crap rather than bother trying understand where the music came from, and from there judge whether or not there's any merit to it. As such, emo's reputation, especially amongst many punk rock and metalhead types, is that it is more or less the posing, mincing pop music of angsty teens of the 2000's; the newest, lousiest of the slop that major labels are trying to toss at us these days as "alternative music".

Then there are some people who, having done their homework, will concede that while of course, obviously, there's little use for the genre nowadays, but nonetheless certain early emocore acts such as Fugazi and Rites Of Spring are at least cool, even if they somehow ultimately inspired a bunch of garbage in their wake. However, for somebody who listens to Rites Of Spring, and then Taking Back Sunday back to back, it may be rather difficult to see how the former somehow begat the latter. This is largely due to the fact that throughout the late 80's, all along the 90's, and right on into the 2000's when emo finally commercially broke in the mainstream, the genre had seen an assortment of mutations, variations, and developments, some of which connected to the ultimate percolation in emo's commercial assent (and decade plus as the dominant trend in popular alternative music), while other developments spun the genre into more obscure, tenuously independent directions.

While there isn't really enough space or justification for a recap of the history of emo here, it is worth keeping in mind simply that throughout the years, a vast assortment of bands, many of which being quite good (and quite uncommercial), while having very little musically to do with one another, have all gotten lumped together under the emo umbrella. And in these days of Fall Out Boy, that categorization has done little to make these other bands look terribly credible, and has done less to actually describe the music they produce. Think about grunge rock, to which emo developed popularly speaking in a fairly parallel manner.

Back when grunge was in its early stages, there were a wide variety of bands, many sounding quite different from one another despite sharing at least certain common esthetics. Although the term was already wafting in the air by the late 80's and very early 90's, bands weren't necessarily seeking out to be "grunge" bands per se; most were just trying to be good rock bands, that was all it needed to be. Then, as scenes in regions such as the Northwest and Midwest began to pick up steam, major music media began sniffing around for the proverbial "next big thing". The British press picked up on this new "grunge" thing, especially in the rainy town of Seattle, and started reporting on it with rabid enthusiasm. One thing leds to another, Nirvana hit it big, and grunge rock was king of the roost – and all these different bands that have already been playing for a few years, often just for themselves and their communities, were now suddenly "grunge bands" playing "grunge rock", much to the chagrin of many the actual participants involved . Then, as grunge (and alternative rock in general) became more popular, major labels started snapping up new, young bands that were ready to gleefully dedicate themselves to being grunge bands, emulating groups that had existed prior to "grunge" becoming the established means of describing their music. The result? Crap bands like Candlebox and Local H, lowest-common-denominator groups who sell a few thousand albums off somebody else's sound before eventually getting dropped from their label, fading away, or hacking on well passed the point of anyone's interest. Meanwhile, now any band that plays with a Sabbath-y muck and punk sneer gets tagged in some form or another as a "grunge band", and thus is forced to carry all the baggage that comes with such a label. Although emo hasn't quite yet crested to the point where we're seeing too many "where are they now?" specials on artists involved, you can be sure that the wave in the genre's popularity will inevitably crash, and eventually emo will likely be the stuff of nostalgia specials when VH1 gets around to doing an I Love The 2000's series. Meanwhile, the term "emo" now comes with its own set of baggage, and any band that has at any point in the genre's history been associated with that word (regardless of the actual substance of their music) will now have to be explained as "one of the good ones" in light of all the nauseating pop music with which emo has become associated. Such is the case of emo/melodic hardcore band (but one of the good ones), Lifetime.

Lifetime began in New Jersey in 1990, during a musical climate in which the second generation of Northeastern hardcore, better known as Youth Crew, was beginning to wind down. With the young participants of Youth Crew beginning to grow a little older and perhaps more than a little wary with the manner in which their stridently positive scene had given away to continual hard stances, infighting, and shut down venues, many of the movers and shakers in the scene decided to move towards softer, decidedly more introspective forms of sonic expression, as evidenced in such groups as the Krishna-core of Shelter (featuring ex-members of Youth Of Today) and the brooding, plodding, newly-termed "post-hardcore" of Quicksand (founded by ex-Gorilla Biscuit Walter Schreifels). Around for Youth Crew, but immediately influenced by its decline, came Lifetime. Through their melding of pop melodics and hardcore's tempo and intensity, combined with yearning, reflective lyricism, and thankfully more than a little bit of well-placed humor, Lifetime helped create one of the most subsequently aped musical templates of the 2000's emo-punk era. Both Taking Back Sunday and fellow New Jersyites Saves The Day have cited Lifetime as a major influence on their sound (with the latter band basically sounding like blatant Lifetime copycats on their early efforts), and through a series of increasingly well-received releases, Lifetime now boasts a dedicated cult audience which only seems to have grown between their disbandment in 1997 and their reformation a decade later. At their best, the group was able to perfectly invoke all the day-to-day joy, angst, sadness and triumph that goes into being a lovelorn youth, all encapsulated within the perfectly paced, eminently catchy two-minute punk song. Although they have been called everything between melodic hardcore, Lifetime are at heart a great punk band, and act as proof positive that hardcore could still make for some fresh and interesting music well into the Clinton administration.

Now excuse me while I exchange my snobbish emo historian/apologist hat for my snobbish music critic hat.

Additionally, their debut album stinks.

Sure, Lifetime would turn into a great, influential outfit who would write several short albums of incredibly catchy, emotionally bracing hardcore punk, but there was little indication of this to be found on their ponderous, poorly-recorded debut, Background. Too early and two members short of the definitive line-up that would write all of their best loved albums, Lifetime on this long-player strived for some sort of over-serious blend of hardcore and melodic hard rock, something along the lines of what Shelter was doing around the exact same time, but instead ended up with an album which could probably best be described with the phrase "whiny, hookless crap".

Clearly, they were already taking steps towards the sound they would become known for on later releases, in that most of these songs do blend uptempo hardcore parts with slower, emotional breakdowns, but unlike the Lifetime I came to know and love, the music simply doesn't catch the ears, and lead singer Ari Katz more or less yawns through the lot of these tunes. And he yawns out of tune at that! Now generally speaking, when discussing hardcore punk, you kind of have to take for granted that because the vehicle of the vocalist is more often than not going to be shouting or screaming anyway, you can't expect too much in the way of "tuneful singing". Even so, if you are going to attempt to sing over your hardcore music, please find something more interesting to than just drawling the same three notes one after the other, while elongating the last note for dramatic effect. The result is an annoying vocal pattern found often throughout the disc, in which it just sounds like Ari is going "wah, wah wah, wah wah waaaaaaaah…" over the sounds of RC cars racing over stretched cellophane. Ech.

Which, now that I'm thinking about it, I should also point out that the production of this album is all-around terrible. Everything sounds like a gray, trebly wash, with gutless guitar tones containing no low-end fighting for distraction over Ari's moaning and drums which sound like somebody shooting off a pop gun and dribbling a basketball in rhythm. And, as the old adage goes: "People shooting off pop guns and dribbling basketballs in rhythm should be seen, not heard".

Not that good production would help the boring, toothless music, which I enjoyed so much that I described it in my notes as being "midtempo alternative rock angst", "bland high-speed hardcore", and as being "a trebly nuisance". The song "Myself" does feature a hilarious fuzzed out vocal in which somebody screams "You're tearing me apart!", which totally reminds me of the classic line from gonzo good-bad flick The Room, in which Tommy Wiseau exclaims, "You are tearing me apart, Lisa!". (By the way, if you haven't seen The Room, SEE IT. It's the Killer Fox of romantic dramas, and as such is one of the most bafflingly bad movies ever committed to both digital and analog film, mostly due to the fact that the director didn't especially know what he was doing.) Unfortunately, this unintentionally funny gaff is one of the only memorable moments on this album. Elsewhere, "Ghost" stands as the only song I honestly like all the way through, as it is a genuinely solid stab at midtempo emo with a descending-note driven main riff distinct enough to actually make me to perk my head up and say "oh!", and singing from Ari that for once works WITH the music. Still, when the only good song on your melodic hardcore album is the slow song, your band has major problems.

Problems, indeed, that would be mostly corrected on subsequent releases. Two of the members who helped write the songs on this album would be gone and replaced by the time of their breakthrough second record, Hello Bastards, and the band would benefit vastly from the new blood they were bringing in. As it goes, while Lifetime would reveal themselves to be destined for greatness, Background is an all-around weak effort, and is recommended only (and I mean only) for fans who consider themselves diehard completists.

Oh, I almost forgot! Did I mention the 1997 CD reissue of this album also includes an entire live performance by the band from just before Background came out as bonus tracks? That's right: after listening to over a half an hour of whiny, trebly rambling, you can sit back and enjoy…the same boring, annoying songs again in live form as an added bonus! At one point, Ari proves himself a very charismatic frontman in his early days by talking to the audience about the weather. Then, at the end of the set, the announcers mix up Lifetime's name with the band that is coming on after them. If this sounds like a good time to you, then you are probably crazy and might as well try to hunt down an out-of-print copy of this album. Otherwise, maintain your distance, and proceed directly to any of Lifetime's material circa 1995 or later.

Review by Hunter Brawer

Review date: 07/2010

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Seven Inches

Lifetime - Seven Inches ©1994 Glue
1. Isae Aldy Beausoleil
2. Ferret
3. Star Sixty Nine
4. Ampersand
5. Secede
6. Dwell
7. Find
8. Souvenir
9. Gone
10. Tradition

Two steps forward, one step back. Seven Inches collects Lifetime's second release, the Tinnitus EP, and their pre Background self-titled 7" debut together in one handy little CD. The former record shows Lifetime improving significantly from their dour long player, while the latter is…eh…at least no less good than the debut. The first EP was, I believe, out of print and fairly difficult to find by the time Lifetime decided to reissue them together on one CD (at which point the band was beginning to create major waves with their first album in the proper Lifetime style, Hello Bastards), so while this isn't exactly the most absolutely essential album for anybody but the major Lifetime fans, it at least made it possible for people to easily obtain these early recordings. That is, at least until Seven Inches itself went out of print again…and was then reissued with two bonus tracks (that I don't have)…until it was reissued again as part of the Somewhere In The Swamps Of Jersey album, which did contain the bonus tracks (which I do have)…that is, until…well, never mind.

The first five tracks of Seven Inches consist of the Tinnitus EP, which, as I mentioned above, came out after Background, and show the band making quite noticeable progress towards their best known sound. Although the production still isn't too terribly strong at this point (the guitars don't exactly boom with power, and the drums sound rather boxy), the band itself sounds much tighter than before – the plodding and directionless angst of the previous album have given away to decidedly sharper songwriting, and much firmer performances on the part of the musicians. The faster sections are aggressive but hooky, and the slower parts are no longer simply trudge-moshes, but are rather implemented for dynamic build-ups, or for soaring, melodic breakdowns. Meanwhile, Ari is actually singing and shouting his little heart out now; no more of that whine-moaning crap he was doing on the last album! To be sure, there's a little bit of that still going on, but give the guy some credit: at least he sounds like he's really trying to become a hardcore singer at this point, and it's a 200% improvement over the warbling his previous style. The lyrics are, as they are mostly known by this band to be, angsty, but they've also matured from the icky, embarrassingly sophomoric teenage-tear-carnival tripe of lines like "You took the best of her/when you had sex with her" and "You're tearing me apart!" which graced the background of the last effort by the group. Stand-out tracks include the bouncy opener "Isae Aldy Beausoleil", the invention of Saves The Day's sound and career with the infectiously catchy, midtempo emo pop of "Ferret", and "Ampersand", a song which threatens to harken back to Lifetime's earlier days by starting out with a lumbering, harmonics-driven slow plod topped with some of the dreaded Ari Katz classic groan-whining, but redeems itself after being suddenly punctuated by very solid, melodic hardcore section, after which it slows down again and builds itself up on the juxtaposition of powerful, yet tuneful heavy passages transitioned between cathartic, speedy sections. The fun-time humor of the band is not quite in place yet, but "Ampersand" is without a doubt the most musically ambitious thing Lifetime had done up to this point, and represents, as does this EP does as a whole (the one dull track "Secede" notwithstanding), a significant and positive evolution in Lifetime's musical identity.

On the other hand, the next five tracks, which encompass their self-titled debut, frankly, stink about as much anybody who has heard Background would expect. On the plus side, this EP (remastered for this compilation, apparently), doesn't sound like the midrange/treble heavy mess that the proceeding long-player would, but musically, almost everything here is just dull, dull, dull – uncompelling riffs abound plentifully, Ari is whining and yawning all the way through this sucker (with some pretty rough lyrics to boot: "I cry/holding onto the sky"?), and for the most part, these songs are more or less interminable brushstrokes of mediocrity. The songwriting is also, perhaps due to being a bit temporally closer to Youth Crew, decidedly "tougher" than it would ever be on subsequent releases, with positively rotten breakdowns in most of the songs, and the occasional NYHC-style gang shouted backing vocal here and there. And in track seven, "Find", which features some of Ari's most off-key attempts at singing complementing the hookless 'tough-rock' of the music, we have…little Slayer note-fills between the riffs?! Lifetime imitating Slayer?! Yes, it's true. Little bitty Slayer fills between the main opening riffs. Of course, they aren't any good, but they sure are there! Fun (sort of)! Oh, and also, if you've ever felt compelled to listen to some of the most god awful breakdown-laden hard-stance style hardcore in existence, be sure and check out the final track on this EP (and the entire CD), "Tradition". Now, to be fair, the band had been together for less than a year before putting these tracks out, and they make no bones in the liner notes about how it kind of scares them to listen to it these days. It also doesn't make the music feel any less cruddy. Hey, we all had to start somewhere, right? At least it's still shorter than Background!

Despite a lousy second half, Seven Inches is still a worthwhile find for the slightly more than casual Lifetime fan, if for no other reason than that the Tinnitus EP is the first real stride towards a sound that would come to fruition on their breakthrough second album, Hello Bastards. Find it cheap, or better yet, do the economical thing and buy it as a part of Somewhere In The Swamps Of Jersey, where you'll get everything mentioned above, along with some solid later odds, ends, and remixes, and whole lot more Background then anyone could ever possibly want or need. If Lifetime hasn't always made it easy on the ears with their earlier material, at least they've put forth a good effort to make it easy on the wallet. Onwards, towards much greener pastures (and album covers)…

Review by Hunter Brawer

Review date: 07/2010

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Hello Bastards

Lifetime - Hello Bastards ©1995 Jade Tree
1. Daneurysm
2. Rodeo Clown
3. Anchor
4. I'm Not Calling You
5. Bobby Truck Tricks
6. (The Gym Is) Neutral Territory
7. I Like You Okay
8. It's Not Funny Anymore
9. Irony Is For Suckers
10. What She Said
11. Knives Bats New Tats
12. Ostrichsized

In with the loud guitars! While this was actually Lifetime's third release at this point in their career (fourth, if you count the Seven Inches compilation), Hello Bastards is, as far as most people are concerned, Lifetime's first proper album. Even though I've already generally described Lifetime's sound as it came into its own on this record, I'll reiterate it again by stating that this is, by and large, melodic hardcore in the most literal sense of the phrase: most of the songs features bouncy, ass kicking 1/2/1/2 drum sections, but rather than the angry screaming that is usual par for course for hardcore punk, vocalist Ari Katz instead opts to sing his lungs outs, sometimes yelling, sometimes letting the pipes soar, but above all, he's singing a tune (ie: with discernable notes) over these speedy hardcore parts, not just shouting, growling, and sneering in pattern with the music. Meanwhile, the band mixes things up with tuneful, mid-tempo breakdown sections (that often feature big vocal hooks), which do better to inspire sweaty young-person singalongs than they do moshing or any other sort of dumb tough guy posturing.

Another aspect of the band which discourages the skull butting of ye olde hardcore days (despite the clear inspiration which is drawn from that era) is the fact that most of these songs are about relationships, high school semi-nostalgia, feelings, and other wimpy things that a guy in a Judge shirt wouldn't want to be caught dead breaking teeth to. Indeed, it's difficult to be a credible pit thug when the soundtrack to the beatings you distribute is a song entitled "I like You Okay". Yet this isn't just some cry fest either: despite the band being retroactively (or perhaps proactively, although I wasn't there to really know one way or the other) filed under the "emo" genre, these songs are, for the most part, exuberant, uptempo punk rock. It's as if Lifetime took the best aspects of the increasingly interminable hardcore genre, which by 1995 was going off into several really lousy directions (Earth Crisis or One Life Crew, anyone?), and injected it with fresh shot of energy and good-time melody to make it interesting again, all the while ditching the macho nonsense that had been plaguing hardcore for years. The result is a fresh, fun, catchy album that happened to influence dozens of lesser bands to take note, and many new fans to sign onto Lifetime's sound. Whether it's the melodicore rushes of "Danurism" and "Anchor" (the latter featuring a great, Jawbreaker-esque midtempo section), or utter teen-youth anthems such as "(The Gym Is) Neutral Territory" and (the wonderful) "Ostrichsized" (I fully appreciate this band's use of supreme punnage, by the way), there's plenty of great music to be had within this album's 23 minutes of music, despite a few patchy moments here and there (particularly, a moment within "Irony Is For Suckers" which sounds a bit too close to Green Day for enjoyment, and some less compelling, if by no means terrible straight-up emo). A well-played cover of Husker Du's "It's Not Funny Anymore" rounds out the set, and gives a good cue as to where Lifetime draws some of their inspiration from.

It should be noted that many people consider this to be Lifetime's finest moment. While I don't count myself amongst that camp, Hello Bastards is undeniably Lifetime's breakthrough album, and represents an important shift towards a much more positive and enjoyable direction in the often bleak world of 90's hardcore. A good starting point for beginners and a must for fans (although I'm hard pressed to imagine any Lifetime fan reading this review who doesn't already own this album), Hello Bastards is a brief, fun, and very well-written affair, and should not be missed fans of solid melody and fun hardcore. Do a good enough job ripping it off, and perhaps you too can be rich someday as well!

(Act fast, as trend appeal is increasingly limited.)

Review by Hunter Brawer

Review date: 07/2010

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Jersey's Best Dancers

Lifetime - Jersey's Best Dancers ©1997 Deep Elm
1. Turnpike Gates
2. Young, Loud, And Scotty
3. Francie Nolan
4. 25 Cent Giraffes
5. Hey Catrine
6. Bringin' It Backwards
7. How We Are
8. Theme Song For A New Brunswick Basement Show
9. Cut The Tension
10. The Truth About Lars
11. The Boy's No Good
12. The Verona Kings

In with the louder guitars! To be honest, this follow up to Lifetime's much celebrated Hello Bastards isn't terribly different from that album with regards to songwriting or musical approach, so there isn't a whole lot I could say here that hasn't already been said in the last review. I find this terrific, energetic album just slightly easier to recommend over the sophomore long-player for two reasons:

1) The production is louder, clearer, and the guitars are just a teensy-bit heavier than before, making this record ideal for blasting and singing along to on road trips, in your room, or in the shower, provided your CD player doesn't short out or electrocute you.

2) Unlike on the last album, the moments of passable, but ultimately momentum-breaking pure emo such as "I'm Not Calling You" have been deleted, and Jersey's Best Dancers doesn't contain any boring moments on it, rare as they were on Hello Bastards. And unlike Hello Bastards, there's also a couple of really cool straight-up hardcore style songs, such "Bringin' It Backwards", and (the verses, anyway, of) "How We Are". You do like hardcore, don't you? If so, you'll love these songs! If not, a sad shake of the head is all I can offer you.

One way or another, you take the two factors described above, add to them some goofy in-studio banter between the songs, and apply them to the twelve brief, catchy, and entirely lovable gems which make up this album, and the result is the best Lifetime your money can buy. Jersey's Best Dancers or Lifetime's best numbers? One in the same, and entirely worth the measly 23 minute investment it takes to listen to this fine album from start to finish. A modern classic of punk, emo, melodic hardcore, or whatever you may choose to call it.

Review by Hunter Brawer

Review date: 08/2010

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Somewhere In The Swamps Of Jersey

Lifetime - Somewhere In the Swamps of Jesey ©2006 Jade Tree
Disc 1:
1. Somewhere In The Swamps Of New Jersey
2. Isae Aldy Beausoleil
3. Ferret
4. Starsixteynine
5. Ampersand
6. Secede
7. Young, Loud, And Scotty
8. Bringin' It Backwards
9. Theme Song For A New Brunswick Basement Show
10. New England
11. Money
12. You
13. Pieces
14. Myself
15. Thanks
16. UP
17. Bedtime
18. Old Friend
19. Ghost
20. Alive
21. Background
22. Dwell
23. Find
24. Souvenir
25. Gone
26. Tradition
Disc 2:
1. You
2. Pieces
3. Myself
4. Thanks
5. Up
6. Bedtime
7. Old Friend
8. Ghost
9. Alive
10. Background
11. You (live)
12. Ghost (live)
13. Thanks (live)
14. Dwell (live)
15. Up (live)
16. Alive (live)
17. Gone (live)
18. Bedtime (live)
19. Background (live)

Retrospectacular! Er, sort of.

Somewhere In The Swamps Of Jersey is lavish two-disc set which compiles the entireties of Seven Inches and a whopping two versions of Background (one remixed, and one the original version with the live set no longer hidden as bonus tracks) with the B-side to the The Boy's No Good single (the title song can be found on Jersey's Best Dancers), a couple covers which appeared as bonus tracks on the repress of Seven Inches, along with assorted remixes from the Jersey's Best Dancers era of the band. In other words, this is just about everything Lifetime has ever recorded outside of their three main albums.

I've already spoken in detail about the early EPs and the original version of their debut, so I'll say no more on such subjects here. However, I would like to have a word about the wisdom of including two versions of Background. First of all, that album is indeed a boring bucket of horse wash, and sitting through it once, much less twice, in a single session is a chore in of itself. However, for what it's worth, the remixed version found on the first disc really does significantly improve its minute listenability, thanks to a healthier, non treble-scraggle guitar tone and a decidedly punchier drum sound. In fact, the remix of Background is so good that the sound is really barely an issue anymore. As such, I found myself almost not minding the album much at all until I realized how dull the songs truly are, technical distractions resolved. Thus, if you absolutely must hear Background, this remix is unquestioningly the way to go, and if you disagree (and are hard of hearing), there's always the undiluted dross of the "classic" version on disc two.

Elsewhere, the remixes of the Jersey's Best Dancers songs are perfectly listenable, if slightly inferior to the original versions, the covers are fun (the Billy Bragg cover "A New England" being one of the best tracks on the entire set), and the title track/b-side "Somewhere In The Swamps Of New Jersey" is both a great song and yet another reminder that Lifetime sure inspired a hell of a lot of bands that weren't nearly as good as they were. So it goes.

Honestly, if you're nothing more than a casual fan of Lifetime, you probably don't need this set as the majority of what's contained hereon is more interesting from a historical standpoint rather than a musical one, and there are quite a few repeated tracks throughout the 45 songs spanning these two discs. However, those who count themselves as members of the Lifetime fan-cult will find Somewhere In The Swamps Of Jersey of much interest, as it collects all of the band's rarer material into one place, and offers a fair share of decent numbers to boot. And, if nothing else, it also deflates price of those lousy early albums on the collector's market, allowing the money saved to be funneled into much more useful investments…such as, for instance, perhaps a mechanical bull or broken coffee mug. Or hey, better yet, a Lifetime album that's actually any good!

Review by Hunter Brawer

Review date: 08/2010

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Lifetime

Lifetime - Lifetime ©2007 Fueled By Ramen
1. Northbound Breakdown
2. Airport Monday Morning
3. Just A Quiet Evening
4. Haircuts And T-Shirts
5. Can't Think About It Now
6. Spiders In A Garden
7. Yeems Song For Nothing
8. Try And Stay Awake
9. Song For Mel
10. All Nite Long
11. Records At Nite

After releasing career pinnacle Jersey's Best Dancers, Lifetime embarked on a brief tour in support of the album before deciding to throw in the towel. In the decade long interim between then and 2007, guitarist Dan Yemin continued on in a similar musical path with his next band, Kid Dynamite, and then moved into more hardcore (and blatantly political) directions with Paint It Black. Ari Katz got married and had a kid. But collectively, the members of Jersey's most beloved hardcore band watched as the accessible sound of emo/pop hardcore they helped to create exploded across the charts, becoming one of the biggest musical trends of the post-grunge generation. Sensing that the time was right and following a few highly successful reunion gigs in 2005, Lifetime decided to officially reform, ultimately culminating in this 2007 self-titled effort. Having had ten years off from playing with one another and their sound now being the rule rather than the exception, a question remained: now that every mall rat and their grandmother had a shot on the radio if they chose to go with a diluted version of Lifetime's sound, was the original band even relevant any more?

Now generally speaking, reunion albums, and especially punk reunion albums, are often dicey propositions. The band is typically caught trying to tread water between maintaining their original sound (and thus the interest of their core fanbase), while at the same showing the world that they still have something more to offer besides the body of work which had made them famous years before. The results usually satisfy neither of these objectives, with the band retreading their old sound without adding anything new to it, all the while failing to capture the early spark that made that original sound good in the first place (which usually happens due to the onset of old age, a lack of interest/energy, or dollar signs in the eyes). The reunion album ends up becoming the ubiquitous "one to avoid", annoyingly stocked at all the music shops because it's the most recent (and thus, freshly promoted) effort by the group, but it is destined ultimately to be a forgotten within a year or two, after which point people go back to talking about the band's classic material and drool over the prospects of a real reunion show bereft of any material from said reunion album. In the final judgment, nobody ends up caring about the reunion album except for the band members themselves and the absolute diehard fans, and even amongst them, both parties will readily admit that the finest work was already behind the group by this point. It's an unfortunate, but highly common phenomena.

Fortunately, Lifetime has managed to completely circumnavigate this common reunion pitfall by releasing an album that sounds every bit as fresh and energetic as they sounded a decade back, but at that same time one which doesn't succumb to the self-conscious back-checking that tanks most punk reunion efforts as lesser bands make fidgety, contrived efforts at proving they still got "it", while missing the point entirely. Instead of looking for an acceptable point of reference, Lifetime plows right ahead on this album, picking up right where they left off on Jersey's Best Dancers while putting the ten accumulated years of new experiences and improved chops to great use hereon. Lifetime has never sounded sharper, Ari has never sang so well, and the production, backed by pop-emo epicenter label Fueled By Ramen, has never sounded louder, cleaner, or fuller. The band's songwriting is also more blatantly melodic than ever before, with smart, yet simple sweeping hooks dominating the bulk of this album, some of which (such as "Just A Quiet Evening") exhibiting that the poppy emo which Lifetime helped so largely to inspire may well have had an echo-back influence on the band itself. That said, make no mistake about it: despite this clearly being Lifetime's most accessible album to date (it sounds like if Lifetime had a hit to be written, it would've been "Can't Think About It Now"), this is no sell-out album; the band is at top form here, and they prove that even as relative "old guys" in the melodic hardcore/emo stakes, they can still handily put the denizens of follower-bands they inspired to waste.

Far from merely being a "reunion album", Lifetime is a very welcome addition to the band's canon of work, and is honestly as good a place as any (perhaps even the best) to start within the group's catalogue. As a personal aside, this was the first album I ever heard by Lifetime, and it instantly made me a fan. Lifetime is proof that while these Jerseyites may have been often imitated in recent years, the copycats still haven't come close to duplicating the energy or songcraft of the originators. There may be a lot of emo and melodic hardcore floating around in popular music at the moment, but as this self-titled album proves, there's still only one Lifetime.

Review by Hunter Brawer

Review date: 08/2010

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