POZ Review: Yellowcard - Ocean Avenue Acoustic
by Becky Kovach, edited by Erik van Rheenen
You never forget the first time you hear your favorite band. I was eleven, watching TV in my living room after a violin lesson. When the music video for “Ocean Avenue” came on, it was confusing at first: I’d never thought of the violin as anything other than a classical instrument. Yet here was a pop punk band using it - and using it well.
When Yellowcard’s Ocean Avenue became popular, it introduced me to a scene I’d never really encountered before, and it showed me that there was much more to the violin than I had imagined. The band sparked a passion for music that has stuck with me throughout my young life, and I’ve loved Yellowcard ever since.
From the familiar melodies of “Way Away” to the final echoing chords of “Back Home” and everything in between, it’s clear that Ocean Avenue Acoustic wasn’t an attempt to improve old songs. To say differently would imply that they needed improvement. Instead, Yellowcard took everything we knew and turned it into something fresh and exciting, giving a whole new generation of fans the chance to fall for the songs many of us have loved for years.
Opening track “Way Away” has always been a loud, in-your-face kind of song, but the acoustic version shows off its more vulnerable side. The choruses are quiet and reserved: their underlying guitar and violin melodies suggest a desperation for escape matched only in Ryan Key’s passionate vocals as he belts out, “Way away away from here I’ll be / Way away away so you can see / How it feels to be alone and not believe.”
Key may have had problems with his voice in the past, (including a necessary surgery in 2006) but it has never sounded stronger than it does on “Only One.” His voice soars over the ballad’s lilting guitars, while the song’s subtle bridge allows him for a more modest presentation.
The only thing more distinctly “Yellowcard” than Key’s voice is the band’s use of violin. Helmed by Sean Mackin, the violin has long been a trademark, setting Yellowcard apart from others in the scene. It shines brightest in “Believe,” an anthemic song that teaches listeners: “Everything is gonna be alright / Be strong, believe.” Mackin’s prowess with a bow is awe-inspiring as he delicately weaves melodies of hope through a song about one of the USA’s most devastating events.
Despite strong showings from typical fan favorites, it’s the lesser-known songs like “Empty Apartment” and “Twenty Three” that steal the spotlight. “Empty Apartment” is sincere and heartfelt, a sorrowful track mourning a friendship that somehow fell apart. The track is the album’s most successful at layering and highlighting emotionally charged melodies that may have gone unnoticed in the original version. “Empty Apartment” is unavoidably heartbreaking as Key sings, “Someday, if ever you loved me you’d say / ‘It’s okay’” over some of guitarist Ryan Mendez’s most poignant guitar work to date.
“Twenty-Three” remains the only Yellowcard song on which Mackin is featured as lead vocals. His voice having withstood a strenuous battle with thyroid cancer, Mackin offers a commanding presence. It’s enhanced by the humbled drumming of Longineu Parsons III, who unleashes a steady yet unobtrusive beat that doesn’t detract from the subdued nature of the song.
Of course, it’s impossible to talk about Ocean Avenue the album without discussing its iconic title track. In 2003, “Ocean Avenue” was synonymous with summer: it was a song that radiated youthful exuberance. And though it lost some of its urgency when receiving the acoustic treatment, “Ocean Avenue” still drives home a fiery performance. The buildup of drums into the song’s familiar chorus and the bridge’s “whoa’s” show that, though the guys may have gotten older, they’ve still got the same spark that made Ocean Avenue so special in the first place.
The Yellowcard that released Ocean Avenue ten years ago is not the same Yellowcard that just released its acoustic counterpart. Obvious lineup changes aside, Ocean Avenue Acoustic is the result of ten years of trial and error, learning and growth - a new album from a new perspective.
My eleven-year-old self could never have understood this, but the person I am today continues to be amazed by everything this band has taught me, and how much I still have to learn.
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