It’s hard to believe that Maybe This Place Is The Same And We’re Just Changing is Real Friends’ debut record. Over the last few years they’ve become one of the most popular young bands in pop-punk, and listening to their debut it’s easy enough to see why, but it’s also clear that they still have a lot of growing up to do. Real Friends might be a big band as far as the genre goes, but they aren’t good enough to be classed in the same bracket as the likes of The Wonder Years, at least if Maybe This Place Is The Same… is anything to go by. The promise the band showed on their earliest EP’s hasn’t really been realised here, and although their debut is a decent enough pop-punk record that’s all it perhaps is; above average, but way short of the heights they’re aspiring to.
If you’re already a fan of Real Friends then chances are you’ll know what to expect what from Maybe This Place Is The Same…, and even if you’ve never heard of the band before you could take a good guess and still come pretty close. The majority of the songs on the band’s debut are straightforward pop-punk songs, reminiscent of the likes of The Story So Far and Knuckle Puck, although not quite on that level.The energy and intensity is there; once Real Friends hit their stride they often maintain it, churning along instrumentally as vocalist Dan Lambton shouts his way through bassist Kyle Fasel’s lyrics in a way which is harsher than the bands past material, but something still seems to be missing, and it’s all too apparent on opener I Don’t Love You Anymore which kicks the record off a fairly unnecessary introductory track. Songs like this one are exactly what you’d expect from the band, and Real Friends sound confident in that knowledge, but like a lot of the ten songs that follow it I Don’t Love You Anymore doesn’t make a substantial impact, rushing from point A to B, and it lacks the melody that made past songs like Home For Fall so engaging, sounding uninspired and bland. Maybe This Place Is The Same sounds familiar, and very few songs set themselves apart in the bands discography, especially during the first half of the record. The dynamic Summer and Loose Ends will undoubtedly go down very well at shows, but on record they’re entirely forgettable, although the latter does boast one of the better choruses. Neither is particularly bad per se – Real Friends are good at what they do – but they both show that the band struggle to write a song which merits memorising every hook and line, something they’ve struggled with since the release of Everyone That Dragged You Here. The first half of Maybe This Place Is The Same falls flat, bordering on dull, and thankfully the second half sees an immense improvement. As a whole though there’s not a whole lot here to condemn (except the one area I’ll cover below), which may seem odd considering my thoughts so far, but it is worth stressing that Real Friends are not bad musicians, it’s just that half of these songs aren’t worth writing home about.
And now we come to my main issue with Maybe This Place Is The Same… – the real disappointment. I’m nineteen at the time of writing this, a few weeks away from twenty, and I’ve never had my heart broken. Maybe then it’s unfair of me to say so, but I’d like to think that when I do fall in love with a dead ringer for Emma Stone and she promptly leaves me for an Andrew Garfield lookalike I’d handle my life turning to shit with slightly more dignity than Kyle Fasel does. I’m all for a sad record, some of my favourites this year have been emotionally draining (Nouns, Northbound, Aaron West), but Maybe This Place Is The Same… is hollow sad song after hollow sad song until it blends into a tear-filled mass of miserable late nights alone. Perhaps the worst part of all this is that it didn’t inspire a single shred of empathy from me; I didn’t care about the narrator or his feelings, and it’s because Fasel tries so damn hard to write lyrics he wants people to connect with. It’s as if he has a checklist of every tired cliché out there and he’s crossing boxes off song by song. Lying in bed and missing someone, check, crying out in your car, check, sitting in the dark, check, looking at pictures of your ex, check. It’s all there, and it’s all seriously unconvincing, and Dan Lambton actually deserves some credit for doing so well with what he’s been given. I’ve no issue with pop-punk songs about girls, but at least other artist’s flesh them out a bit, put some heart behind their words and write them like they mean it. Lyrically speaking Maybe This Place… is pathetically uninteresting, with lines like ‘The only time I feel fine is when I’m parked in front of my house with tears in my eyes’ standing out for all the wrong reasons. ‘I thought I would be numb to this by now, I guess I was wrong’, sings Lambton on Summer, really? Fasel is answering long division problems with Shakespeare quotes – as wrong as wrong can be – and he’s anything but numb, although it’s surprising how quickly you become numb to his overbearing outpourings.
Now that that’s out of the way I can start to focus on the positives, the moments where Real Friends really begin to deliver something worth remembering, and almost all of these land in the second half of Maybe This Place Is The Same And We’re Just Changing. If the final six songs on the record were released as a separate EP then that EP would be very good, but the mediocrity of the first half means it’s too late for a solid second half to be Real Friends’ saving grace. The latter stages of Maybe This Place Is The Same… see the band push the boundaries of their sound and start to experiment more within them, and it’s a big step up as a result. There are slower songs in the sombre, haunting Sixteen, and there’s a greater emphasis on melodic guitars in the excellent To My Old Self, and the songs here as a whole don’t sound rushed, they’re happy to take their time, and they’re much easier to listen to and enjoy. What’s more, they introduce some positivity and hope that things will get better. The first half of the record is a rough ride in almost every way, but the second is more thoughtful, more willing to look ahead and think outside of the box instead of relying on the same sort of self-pity to sell the songs, and it shows some progression after a few years stalling. Eleventh track I Think I’m Moving Forward is a highlight for just that reason, a welcome shift in mental direction, and it’s just a shame it wasn’t realised sooner. As Fasel reflects on growing up he grows wiser, and he actually undermines a lot of the soppy bullshit that punctuates the first fifteen minutes of his band’s debut in doing so. I’m not complaining, he shuts the closet door on his skeletons, and suddenly things aren’t so bad, meaning I can forgive lines like the laughable ‘I’m moving forward just like that train’, which then leads into the best chorus on the album as we finally get some long overdue closure. Fitting closer …And We’re Just Changing follows and links the first and last track as Maybe This Place Is The Same… finishes its journey, but it only really leaves the station towards the end, and even though it improves greatly once doing so it still leaves a slightly bitter taste in the mouth upon conclusion.
I had high hopes for Maybe This Place Is The Same And We’re Just Changing, and the record falls short of them in general. It’s far from bad, but it isn’t great either, leaning moreso towards the mediocre / above average portion of the spectrum, hence my rating and mixed review. It doesn’t do enough to establish itself until nearing the end, and for the most part this is a charged, dynamic pop-punk record that unfortunately lacks lyrical bite and substance. If you just want a bouncing, slightly angry soundtrack then you’ll find it here, but if you’re looking for depth and progression you’re wasting your time outside of select songs.
Listen to: Sixteen, To My Old Self, I Think I’m Moving Forward