The Maine’s “Forever Halloween” is a solid release

When Arizona-based band The Maine dropped their most recent album “Forever Halloween” on June 4, my initial feelings were mixed.

This is the band responsible for the 2010 release “Black & White,” which joins the ranks of “Futures” by fellow alt-rockers Jimmy Eat World and “Pinkerton” by Weezer as one of my all-time favorite albums, with no song being even a little skip-worthy. It goes without saying that “Forever Halloween” had a lot to live up to.

The band, fronted by lead vocalist John O’Callaghan, has been in existence since 2007 and has amassed a following among alternative and pop-punk fans, performing three years in a row in the Vans Warped Tour. The Maine has been gradually moving toward a more ’90s alternative-influenced sound and has all but abandoned the saccharine pop-punk sound most associated with their Warped Tour peers as of their last album, “Pioneer.” Still, many of the songs off “Forever Halloween” prove that the group has not lost their knack for creating catchy hooks.

Following in the footsteps of “Pioneer,” the overall feel of the music is less-polished than their previous works, lending to a grittier, almost indie-rock feel, and much like the holiday the album derives its name from, the material is decidedly darker than anything they’d released before. Lyrically is where the band seems to have matured the most, departing from songs about fistfights leading to sex and drunken trysts with the right girl and turning toward more cynical and introspective lyrics.

The album’s opener, “Take What You Can Carry,” is spiced with a dash of Vampire Weekend-esque African influence, particularly in the percussion present in the beginning. The following track, “Love & Drugs,” joins “Blood Red” as a return-to-form for The Maine, featuring the big, hooky choruses that made “Black & White” memorable, although they admittedly fall short of most of the songs on that release. “F—cked Up Kids” is another strong, up-tempo track and “Run” is a synthesizer away from being something The Killers could have recorded, which is a complement considering that I like The Killers. “White Walls” is a dreamy piano-driven track highlighting O’Callaghan’s raspy, vulnerable voice, boasting all the strength I love in a power ballad minus the typical corniness that comes with.

“Forever Halloween” does have a few weaker points. With a ukulele as the primary instrument, mellow “Birthday in Los Angeles,” while heartfelt and honest, is a bit of a snooze and “Sad Songs” is not particularly memorable. I was about to list the title track as well, but after a few more listens, it grows on you, particularly the ending, which features some of the best guitar work I’ve heard in any one of The Maine’s songs. Much like the song itself, it needs time to build up.

The strongest parts of the album more than make up for the weaker tracks. The single, “Happy,” is incredibly singable and radio-friendly, and the lyrics may resonate with many college-aged listeners. Minimalistic and eerie-sounding guitar in the unsettling first verse of “Kennedy Curse” contrasts brilliantly with the loud, melodic chorus, making for what may be the best track on the album.

At the same time, the painfully-honest “These Four Words,” featuring only piano and vocals, is easily the most emotionally-charged song of the bunch, its candid lyrics admitting “These four words don’t come easy; I don’t love you” (although the first line of the song is sure to incite a giggle or two – I’m glad to see they didn’t mature too much).

The Maine has had a place on my iPod for a while now (their 2010 single, “Inside of You,” is well on its way to being the most-played song in my music library). “Forever Halloween,” while not perfect, contains some of the strongest material the band has released to date and is unquestionably a welcome addition to their discography, proving that the band can step into adulthood while retaining the traits that made their fans love them in the first place. It’s reassuring to see that growing up didn’t bring them down.

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