In the wake of an album as gingerly received as ‘Feel’ was, for Sleeping With Sirens to open the promotion of its successor with songs as comparatively raucous as “Kick Me” and “We Like It Loud” was a bold move.
Where the 2013 album attempted to streamline the group’s rough edges and elevate them above the Warped Tour scene they were steadily outgrowing, this new material sounded more club than arena-ready, seemingly kicking and screaming with aggression built up from the collective “meh” they’d been granted last time around. Whether it was this or the integration of former Underminded and D.R.U.G.S. guitarist into the band’s lineup proper that resulted in such a stylistic decision is less relevant than the subsequent revelation that in fact both “Kick Me” and “We Like It Loud” are by no means representative of new album ‘Madness’ as a whole. Instead, it’s for the most part a further exploration of the pop rock sounds they’d tried to play with on ‘Feel’.
Thankfully, they’ve got far more right this time around. For one, vocalist Kellin Quinn has finally settled into writing hooks that are memorable in their own right without needing to rely on his frankly preposterous range, while the reining in of his talents also allows the music to shine brighter in its own right. The songs all benefit for it, and at their best they’re sublime. “Go Go Go” is an unstoppable freight train of momentum that marries vivacity and body effortlessly; “Fly” and “Heroine” are both pop rock stormers while the title track has a classical sensibility in its acoustic guitars and playful vocal melodies. Best of all is “Left Alone”, the kind of apocalyptic monster-ballad that 30 Seconds to Mars or Linkin Park would be proud of. All these songs could, given the opportunity, be massive hit singles.
Sleeping With Sirens’ shift into pop dimensions seems more natural than it did on ‘Feel’, but the transition creates flaws. A dearth of radio ballads is perhaps the most glaring, particularly when they’re arranged in succession such as with “Gold” and “Save Me a Spark”. ‘Madness’ really is a pop album in that it feels like a collection of brilliantly written tracks rather than an intentionally cohesive whole, sore thumb moments like the whistling and whimsy on “The Strays” and cry-for-help pop punk heartache song “Better Off Dead” as well as the two aforementioned hardcore-tinged numbers preventing a real sense of flow. It’s not so much in the songwriting as the sonic textures that this disparity is off-putting, and closer “Don’t Say Anything” admirably attempts to draw the threads of energy and accessibility together but there is a lingering confusion surrounding ‘Madness’ that means it can’t be ruled a total success.
It is however a much, much better album than ‘Feel’ that finally convinces in the idea that Sleeping With Sirens have the ability to step out of their comfort zone and create songs that are brilliant by their own merit, without the need for Quinn’s acrobatics or guest appearance gimmicks. ‘Madness’ is alongside the band’s acoustic EP their most consistent and rewarding release, and despite its somewhat jarring range of sounds and genres comes loaded with songs too huge and catchy to easily dismiss.