It’s been three years since the “Detroit Bad Boys” in Fireworks released an album. Debuting on Triple Crown Records, Gospel was heralded, to a degree, as one of the best pop-punk releases of the year as Fireworks seemed to find a way to effectively fuse aggression (“I Was Born In The Dark”, “The Wild Bunch”) with melodic mid-tempos (“Teeth”), creating a refreshing offering alongside heavier acts in the scene.
However, in the years that followed, the band grew quiet, promising new music around the end of 2012, but never quite delivering until early this year when they paired what would be the “Oh, Common Life” acoustic track with a cryptic black-and-white video. Months later, they would release the full album with the same namesake, hoping to once again be praised by the pop-punk community.
It’s hard to label Fireworks latest release, Oh, Common Life, as a pop-punk album because it truly isn’t (and genres don’t really matter), but rather it is composed of concise, lyrically poignant mid-tempo tracks, and every second of the album feels deliberate. However, it may not feel so upon the first listen.
Fireworks have moved in an unexpected direction from Gospel, showcasing some of their poppiest material (such as the infectious “Flies on Tape”) as well as their darkest tones (see the brilliantly brooding “Run Brother Run”). Veteran Fireworks fans may feel that the band has lost their edge if they judge the album too quickly, but several plays through help to unravel its layers of sentimental introspection and coping with death while fearing the uncertain future.
Frontman Dave Mackinder’s father passed away in 2011, just before the release of Gospel, and with the three year gap between releases, this album appears to epitomize the process of grieving, coping and reflecting as Mackinder’s lyrics are more vulnerable than ever. The album opens with the urgent “Glowing Crosses”, complete with chunky, yet sleek riffing, and although it may be the weakest song on the album, Mackinder belts “I’m barely hangin’ on”, signaling the album’s embark to sort out life’s darkest struggles.
Death can spur a wide range of emotions to the point where it is difficult to even express the internal process, and Mackinder is cognizant of this, belting “I use metaphors to write about / what I really should say aloud” (“The Only Thing that Haunts…”). Dave feels useless like a sprinkler, stubborn like a rug (“The Hotbed of Life”), and he wishes a simple piss test could sort it out—his quirky comparisons paint introspection in a simple, yet insightful light.
Although the album shares a resounding theme of death, the tracks consist of eclectic rock/pop songs each with experimental tone and lyrical perspective. In fact, the up-beat nature of “Bed Sores” and “Flies on Tape” cleverly transform self-deprecating lines like “I keep telling myself everybody’s hell is better than my own” into cheerful hummable melodies with the latter being the one of the strongest songs on the album – a dancey number with tight drumming, effective riffing, and Mackinder’s most ambitious vocal delivery to date. And as the band has progressed from album to album, ambition and diversity take no backseat.
There is a chance that fan opinions polarized over Gospel’s “Teeth”, but the slow-tempo crooner offered a unique break from formulaic pop-punk, and Fireworks chose to build upon such divergent pop-punk tracks, evident in the surfer-tinged “The Only Thing that Haunts…” and remarkably so on “One More Creature…”, Fireworks’ darkest track to date. A slow-burner, full of gut-wrenching emotional breakdown, near-whisper verses build to a cathartic, heavy chorus where a lost Mackinder “searches for a nod from above” in the midst of swirling guitar riffs.
Yet, Fireworks saves the best for last, as “Run Brother Run” and “The Hotbed of Life” embody Fireworks’ best songwriting to date, and the allusion to dealing with the death of a father become more unequivocal and that much more touching. Mackinder sings “I was twenty-five when my dad died” over the measured slow-tempo of the former track, and Fireworks uses less noise as an advantage before exploding into a dizzying post-chorus guitar flurry.
The album closes with the cheerfully toned “Hotbed”, featuring inescapable whoa-oh-oh’s and a dance-worthy chorus to cushion Mackinder’s self-reflection of life before and after the death of a loved one. The listener is left with a fear of the future, but it oddly feels appropriate that the album doesn’t wrap up neatly—life is rarely ever so simple.
Oh, Common Life is an album to be digested and mulled over, listened to in a variety of settings, and there is a chance that not all listeners will grow to eventually love it and that’s okay. Regardless, it stands as an acutely self-aware album that bravely tackles uncertainty.
It is an album that is not overly woeful as the lyrics and subject matter suggest, but rather primarily cheerful in demeanor and execution. It demands your attention, so much so that several plays through will reward the listener with intricacies that only fuel the album’s addictive nature. It’s been a long anxious wait, but it’s safe to say that the bad boys are back and better than ever.