For close to a decade now, Brand New’s ‘The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me’ has stood as the gold standard for the thinking man’s emo. It’s a record so immaculately crafted, so gorgeous in its anguish and uncompromising in its emotional pull that it’s hard for bands of a similar flavour to escape its shadow.
Citizen did not seem like a group who would fall prey to this – their taut first full-length ‘Youth’ may have been more introspective than your typical melodic hardcore album, but it had a youthful (sorry) vitality that awarded distinctiveness. Some even labelled them a pop punk band. That debut was so impressive because of its refusal to stand still, across the space of half an hour brooding but doing so with purpose, and a clear idea of where it wanted to go and how to get there. Perhaps the group felt like bettering it would not be possible, because its follow up does entirely the opposite – it’s far more Brand New than it is Basement, not that that corresponds to an equivalent quality jump.
You can tell from the faux optimistic title of ‘Everybody Is Going to Heaven’ that this is an album that recognises it’s clever, and it is – it eschews any kind of obvious refrains or questionable gimmicks in its delivery of restrained, mercurial alternative rock. The issue is that ‘Everybody Is Going to Heaven’ is too restrained, and never moves consciously to capture the listener’s attention. “Heaviside”, “Weave Me (Into Yr Sin)” and “Yellow Love” are all very pretty songs but are so flat dynamically that they can’t capitalise on the bittersweet melodies that they’re built on. Opening track “Cement” contrasts nicely as its bass and drum grind intro builds nicely to one of the few memorable choruses, whereas “Ten” starts in similar fashion and then goes nowhere.
Unlike those on ‘Youth’, these songs frequently seem to have no idea where they are going, and so settle into ruts. Time and again the band deploy dark, interesting musical passages that then fail to translate into songs that remain consistently engaging, five and a half minute closer “Ring of Chain” the predictable worst offender. Atmosphere is no issue for Citizen, but there’s no use in establishing an atmosphere if there’s then no attempt to progress it over the course of an album’s length – and not only do the tracks lack internal musical variety, they’re also too similar in tempo and character to result in a rousing whole listening experience. It’s disappointing that the best cut is the one most redolent of the band’s first album, “My Favorite Color” taking that title with ease thanks to its uneasy menace and urgent “stay quiet for me” hook.
Few could argue against what Citizen have produced here from an artistic perspective, as this is an album that’s hugely melodic yet never obvious and refuses to condescend its listener; conversely, it also suffers hugely from a lack of variety and, ultimately, ambition. For all its rejection of the accessible and wistful, negativist shading, there’s very little here that will alarm or even directly engage. ‘Everybody Is Going to Heaven’ is a nice album. It should be far, far more.