From the opening seconds of ‘Nice To Me’ – SUCKAPUNCH’s explosive opening track – it is clear that this is a record for long-time fans of You Me At Six. After securing their status as British emo-rock legends with third album Sinners Never Sleep in 2011 and breaking into the mainstream with Cavalier Youth three years later, the Surrey quintet seemed to steer off course with 2017’s derivative and uninspired Night People. While 2018’s VI accomplished the gargantuan task of returning to form while switching up the band’s sound to stay fresh, it didn’t feel like a true evolution, teasing a new direction to follow rather than wholly committing to change.
Enter SUCKAPUNCH, a record that takes the alt-rock foundations of Sinners Never Sleep and overlays it with the experimentation found in VI, pushing that latter album’s flirtation with hip-hop and electronics further to produce a record that manages to be both diverse and cohesive while providing a message eerily relevant for the COVID age.
Perfectly embodying this marriage of genres, ‘Nice To Me’ sneaks in with an emulation of the pre-set reverb heard at live shows before exploding into the sort of hard rock anthem You Me At Six fans have come to expect from an opening track. It’s immediately clear that the band have lost none of their edge, but it’s on the song’s middle eighth that ‘Nice To Me’ really comes into its own. The almost screamed refrain, reminiscent of Hold Me Down opener ‘The Consequence’, is joined by trap beats, culminating in a crescendo that owes as much to dance as it does rock.
The high energy doesn’t let up for ‘MAKEMEFEELALIVE’, the record’s short but punchy punk-rock lead single. ‘Beautiful Way’ proves a nice change of pace, its sparse guitar-driven verses erupting into synth-heavy choruses built around lead singer’s Josh Franceschi’s snarled admission that “We’re fucked up in a beautiful way” – a call-to-arms for the band’s legion of fans if there ever was one.
Centred around the theme of overcoming dark times in our life, this is far from the last inspiring lyrical refrain harking back to the emo glory days of the mid-noughties. ‘Glasgow’, a contender for the band’s best ballad to date, crescendos in an anthemic declaration that “We gotta stitch us back together / If we can, one thread at a time”, while self-proclaimed war-cry 'Finish What I Started' is built around a similar attitude: “When you feel the race is run / It’s time to pick yourself back up”.
If these sentiments might seem overly-familiar to fans of My Chemical Romance and Black Veil Brides, Josh’s agonized delivery adds a sense of authenticity to what could be considered trite lyrics had they been penned by a lesser band. SUCKAPUNCH never succumbs to cliché – something that can’t be said for You Me At Six’s previous records.
Nor are the album’s influences constrained to the bands that dominated teens’ iPods in the mid-2000s. ‘WYDRN’ is an infectious dance track that calls to mind Justin Bieber while retaining a core rock sensibility; the swaggering opening riff of ‘Kill The Mood’ recalls Lil Nas X’s ‘Old Town Road’ before breaking into a climax of guitars; and ‘Voicenotes’, the band’s heaviest song since Sinners Never Sleep’s ‘Bite My Tongue’, erupts into a dynamic nu-metal-inspired chorus. The album’s highlight, however, is its operatic title track. ‘SUCKAPUNCH’ takes the skeleton of a heavy rock song before overlaying it with trap beats, its slow-build culminating into a roaring chorus that wouldn’t feel out of place on Sinners Never Sleep if its dance synths were stripped away.
Despite its abundance of rousing dance-rock tunes, there are a couple of missteps here. ‘What’s It Like’, a song first released before the band had written and recorded the rest of the album, feels out-of-place, tacked-on after the seemingly natural conclusion of the penultimate track (and summation of the album’s themes) ‘Finish What I Started’. In that earlier song, Josh sings “I try to sound like The 75”, and the band seems to have taken this too much to heart when penning ‘MAKEMEFEELALIVE’, a track more than a little reminiscent of The 1975’s ‘People’. Meanwhile, a ten-second preview of the underwhelming ‘Adrenaline’ posted on Instagram the day before the single dropped was enough to convince fans of its similarity to Imagine Dragons’ ‘Believer’.
Making SUCKAPUNCH, You Me At Six set out to create their masterpiece. Ultimately, the record accomplishes what it sets out to do, giving long-time You Me At Six fans the album they deserve while delivering a message of perseverance that is even more relevant now than it was when the album was recorded in late 2019. Offering a true suckerpunch in terms of lyrical content, breakdowns that will leave your jaws on the floor and guitar solos to mosh to, You Me At Six’s seventh studio record is an accomplished amalgamation of the band’s myriad influences while perfecting their core sound.
Josh hasn’t been shy about his belief that SUCKAPUNCH would be his last album with the band – but after this phenomenal return to form, even long-strayed fans might find themselves begging for more.
For all its experimentation, SUCKAPUNCH oozes You Me At Six, its tracks abundant with lyrical and musical references to past songs in the band’s career while never seeming like it’s retreading old ground. Feeling like an updated version of Sinners Never Sleep, SUCKAPUNCH adopts that album’s incorporation of a wide range of genres before filtering them through a VI-esque lens, as the band apply the lessons they’d learned over the course of making all their previous record to craft the most quintessential - and the most experimental - You Me At Six album to date.