As a nineties kid born towards the end of the 20th century, I sometimes find it difficult to indulge in the efforts of artists to create an overwhelming sense of nostalgia for their audiences. It can be hard to find any sense of attachment to a period I never experienced, the sounds, smells and sights all seem so distant and foreign to those I grew up around. So when I experience something that instills this euphoric wave within me, transporting me into an era I never even existed within it’s difficult not to be surprised. Enter Identity Crisis, the sophomore LP of Liverpool based pop-punk act WSTR; an eleven-track ode to a time that most their viewership never lived within.
A progression from their 2017 effort, Red, Green or Inbetween, Identity Crisis marks an obvious fork in the road for the band. Touted by many in the pop-punk scene as a Neck Deep clone in their early stages, this album presented the English four-piece an opportunity to establish their own identity. The album’s title originated from all the album’s demos being from different genres and with Clifford declaring in an interview that the name defines the fear that the band had that their sophomore LP would eventually just turn into a shit show.
Releasing under Californian-based Hopeless Records for the very first time, WSTR have released an album that pushes boundaries, rebels against genre standards and definitively develops an image of a band that is now one of the premiere talents in the ever-growing pop-punk genre. WSTR are Sammy Clifford (vocals), Tom Hawkes (guitar), Alex Tobijanski (bass) and Andy Makin (drums).
Almost instantaneously, the album’s opening track “Tell Me More” sets the theme for the album. Quoting the television and movies, and the entire idea of retro as an enormous inspiration, the band start their second album with television static, the sound of an arcade, while the almost cult-like “please insert gold coin” sounds almost hypnotising. Immediately, listeners are introduced to a brand-new side of WSTR – rockier and more progressive than the portrait painted by their band’s previous effort. The song sounds just like what the band’s fans have come to expect; well written choruses pack a punch while its verses give you time to breathe and bask in Clifford’s vocals. An air of uncertainty surrounds the song though, with its lyrics seeming to focus on a relationship on edge, Clifford is well and truly stuck in a crisis- questioning everything around him.
The transition into “Crisis” is virtually seamless, giving listeners no chance to catch their breath as they are immediately encapsulated by the bold instrumentals of the album’s second single. From the get-go, Clifford’s vocal flow is gripping, similarly matched by his band members. The song sounds darker, angrier but maintains the air of uncertainty introduced in the album’s beginning. It is rebellious and incredibly angsty, demanding clarity whilst declaring that the band will not tie themselves down to abide by genre boundaries. Not so much a call to arms as an internal monologue and personal search for individuality, the guitar solo that pre-empts the final chorus is absolutely engrossing and marks the audacious efforts of the band to establish their own identity.
As “Crisis” rings out, there is no way to be prepared for what comes next in the album’s lead single and defining song: “Bad To The Bone”. The song is incredibly daring, marking the band’s Hopeless Records debut with a clear-cut exclamation mark. The song is as Britpop as it gets. Angsty and bratty in all the right ways, it is a callout to those who spread incredible and fictional narratives about the band without knowing who they really are. Drawn out guitar notes lead into a phenomenal sing-along, with the chanting of “I never said I was good as gold” ironically enough well deserving of its own gold medal. Just like the prior track, “Bad To The Bone” is incomplete without its own guitar solo that pays homage to the album’s influences. It feels almost cheesy yet truly encapsulates the 80s spirit the album tries to capture.
Almost on cue, “Promiscuous” is the angsty love song that we always expect to hear in pop-punk. In its simplest form, it is boy meets girl but girl doesn’t love boy, so boy writes a song. But to define it as that simply just doesn’t do the song justice. It is self-deprecating and sad, yet it still doesn’t detract from the overwhelmingly upbeat mood of the album. Unforgiving and unapologetic, the song does not wallow in its own self-pity, instead channels anger and frustration, most evident in the almost venomous outro, “invertebrate, you’re spineless, you’re dirty, fate decided”. “Promiscuous” is the beginning of a love story carried throughout the album; a mini-narrative in the grander of scheme of WSTR’s search for their own identity.
If I had to sum the album’s fifth song, “The Latest”, in one word it would be ‘tantrum’. In the first chorus, Clifford self-confesses that he is “over dramatic” and he could not be more right. Like an infant throwing their toys from a cot, “The Latest” sounds like it was written while the band was sitting in the corner on a time-out. One of the most enjoyable songs on the album, the childish “blah, blah, blah” that rings throughout the chorus might seem to be over the top, but it is not at all excessive. It perfectly pictures the point of ‘fuck-it’, it is theatrical, exaggerated and a cry for help that only appears to be for the sake of attention.
If you’re unfamiliar with the band’s third single, “Silly Me”, don’t let it’s acoustic intro lull you into a false sense of security. While its beginning might appear to be a reprieve from the wild first half of the album, the song offers no such feeling. Continuing the narrative that begins in “Promiscuous”, the song’s lyrical meaning shifts back to a girl. But where the former seemed angsty and angry, “Silly Me” appears to be an introspective look on indulging in behaviours that you know aren’t good for you. I could happily declare this song to be the best on the album. It all seems to have been worked together perfectly; the bass that rings through the verses compliments the sombre lyrics, while the guitar that resounds through the songs chorus lifts the entire mood of the song. Like a well-oiled machine, the transitions within the song are flawless, as the band shift from full band instrumentals into soothing acoustics into another god-damn ripping guitar solo.
It comes as no surprise that “Fling” carries on the narrative of love and loss introduced in previous songs. Not straying too far from the previous lyrical path, the song laments a falling out between two who were once intimate, with lyrics like “just another fling that you’ll regret” encompassing the mood of the song. While the first half of the album created an effective balance of vocals and instrumentals, the song is the first instance of Clifford’s vocals well and truly taking the front seat. The second verse especially shows a different side of WSTR, as Clifford spits bars the band’s pop influences become apparent. The song is a conduit for his anger at time-wasted while he is treated as a “substitute”, while his sadness is ever present as the song temporarily slows before rising into a strong finish.
Moving away from love for just a moment, “Hide Everything Sharp” is a gut-wrenching and sympathy inducing tune. Almost instantly it picks the listener up and places them in the middle of a breakdown. Clifford is asking a million questions but isn’t hearing any answers. Reinforcing the crisis theme, the song is an outburst of insecurity and indecision, a plea for help. Unlike previous moments in the album, there is no angst in this S.O.S. It is a genuine moment of hesitation within Clifford as he finds himself unable to decipher his own identity. While the vocals are immediately enthralling, it is the song’s chorus that leaves you begging for more, undeniably one of the best on the album. “Hide Everything Sharp” once again reinforces that Identity Crisis is a brand-new side to WSTR, one that is much more complex and thought out.
Many people often regard acoustic tracks as a sometimes tokenistic and almost compulsory overdone genre trope, especially within the pop punk scene. “See You In Hell” feels like neither of those things. Whilst it is a love song and a ballad it serves as an important junction in the album. It is a healthy break from the high-energy of the album’s first eight tracks, and the calm before the storm as the album heads towards its end. The song represents a moment during a period of individual turmoil where one stops to reflect, recharge, to go “on a twisted holiday”. Personal relationships are a defining part of ones own identity, with “See You In Hell” signifying a fork in the road for Clifford- the ambiguity of impending decisions translates through his emotive and strained vocals.
If “See You In Hell” was the calm before the storm, “Ashtray” is the rolling thunder that signals the imminent sonic explosion. It is the final chapter in the romantic narrative that courses and weaves through Identity Crisis, describing a no-bullshit approach to a relationship where one is finally aware of what they deserve. For the first time in the album’s course, there is no feeling of uncertainty or hesitation with the song conversely communicating a feeling of self-assuredness and confidence. While the song itself is probably one of the more repetitive and basic tracks, it is nonetheless an enjoyable one but one that may indeed divide listeners.
As the wind slows, and the tides calm down you’re surrounded by an atmosphere of calm and for a moment everything seems perfect. For a brief moment you reach clarity, but as you sit relaxed the thunder rolls in and the ground begins to shake. “Riddle Me This” is the storm that you’ve been waiting for; the dormant volcano waiting to erupt throughout the entire album. Like pelting rain and gale force winds, the song hammers your eardrums with unrelenting pop-punk goodness. It is the grand finale in a quest for identity, and as far as closing songs go, “Riddle Me This” is as good as it gets. Whilst one of the most reminiscent of their previous album it is also one of the greatest showcases of the band’s progression, a testament to their ability to grow and mature. Not missing the opportunity to indulge listeners with one final singalong, the song ends abruptly, teasing fans but treating them to a wholly satisfying finish to an enjoyable album.
Identity Crisis is a genre-spanning album. Anthemic and energetic, it is incredibly easy to picture these songs being performed to hundreds of teenagers while they jump on each other’s heads and kick in each other’s teeth. The songs are vibrant and fun and it is very clear that WSTR have found a sound that works for them. The narrative that carries throughout the album is absorbing, and the efforts of the band to transport listeners into the past appear to be successful. It is impossible to listen to the album without being overcome by a wave of nostalgia as the band channel retro and vintage into a modernistic pop-punk record.
Identity Crisis is out now via Hopeless Records. The album is available through all good streaming services and you can pick a copy up here: https://24hundred.net/collections/wstr
Occasionally lyrically basic. Repetitive in sections.
High energy, well written and extremely cohesive. Very fun, rarely a dull moment. God damn guitar solos