Never a band to withhold information or pull any punches.
Yellowcard has never been a band to withhold information or pull any punches. In late March, six months before the release of their final album, the band announced that this would be their last album and last tour before breaking up for good. After twenty years, ten albums and roughly one million lineup changes, the band that made Ocean Avenue the most sung about street in the country leaves its fans with one final eponymous album.
Yellowcard began back in 1997 in Florida at a performing arts high school. Now, they will end with just one founding member in the lineup and far removed from the early days of yore. While Yellowcard recorded and released three full length albums before their big break, their signature sound and lineup didn’t come about until 2003’s Ocean Avenue. The title track from that album, featuring Ryan Key’s whining vocals and Sean Mackin’s furious violin, was a critically acclaimed chart topper that launched the band directly from the garage to mainstream success. Yellowcard became MTV darlings, performing at the Video Music Awards and being featured on TRL (RIP).
A lot has changed since that breakthrough album, but Yellowcard have stayed brutally honest. Before releasing their fifth album, front man Ryan Key stated that fans of Ocean Avenue would probably hate it and that the band didn’t really care. With each change, both with their music and lineup, the band have been unapologetic, completely open about their decisions and reasoning. When they took a hiatus in 2008 that would last for two years, Yellowcard released a statement detailing why they needed a break and that they would absolutely be back, a rarity in a scene that thrives on mystery and surprise reunions. Once their lives had settled and they could resume recording and touring, they immediately alerted fans, preparing them for the return they’d been waiting for. Now, rather than fading quietly into obscurity, they’ve given fans time to see them live one last time before they disband.
This last album, a concise ten track release, is an effective cap to a respectable run. There are hints of the band’s early influences on “Got Yours” and “A Place We Set Afire.” The melodies have the heavier sound and strained vocals that colored the earlier portion of Yellowcard’s discography, the days when the band fit solidly into the pop punk genre. Other tracks veer wildly from this style, clearly separating the many genres the band have experimented with over the years.
“Fields & Fences” is a true standout on the album. It begins quietly, lulling listeners into the final song. Key and Mackin come in on harmony, singing about the dissolution of Yellowcard in a candid manner that rings true. Throughout the album, there are references to heat and warmth that culminate in the first lines of the song: “Looking for something to waken my soul, it seems like its singing stopped cold.” There is no rift or cry of creative differences that lead to this planned break, they’ve just simply lost whatever drove them for the last two decades. Rather than forcing the matter, they’ve decided to call it a night and move on to other things that they seem hopeful about. The track ends with Key repeating a mantra that is literally about Tennessee but doubles as a note to his bandmates: “I don’t have much that I can give to you but I know I love the way you make me feel like I’m at home and I am not alone.”
“Fields & Fences” is the final bit of a discussion that plays out on Yellowcard. Throughout the album, we hear what seem to be parts of the conversation the band had before deciding to break up, a statement set to music. On “A Place We Set Afire,” Key sings, “But if we can get free, there’s a big, bright world to see/ Forget about the way it felt before.” It’s easy to continue along a path simply because of the nostalgia it brings, but, in the end, letting go of something when it’s over leads to a better outcome. Key then goes into a chorus that will make any longtime Yellowcard fan shed a tear as he sings out, “We don’t have to say goodbye.” This truly is the essence of the album, that even though it’s not continuing we always have the past to hold onto.
The first song on Yellowcard is maybe the best explanation of the band’s break up. “Rest In Peace” is a pretty on the nose title, but it sums up the emotions presented on their final album. They want the band to end at a point when they can make the choice to call it quits and leave peacefully. In this first track, Key sings about his relationship with the band as if it were a lover. “Change everything I’ve ever known, try once again to let you go,” he sings, referencing Yellowcard’s hiatus and the difficulty he and the rest of the band had in deciding to leave what they’ve been working towards for 20 years. Key details the myriad of emotions that being in Yellowcard evoked in a melodic track that doesn’t sacrifice their sound to give listeners a whiny ballad. Yellowcard stays true to themselves and their music in this final installment and echo the sentiment of many fans with the line that best encapsulates their farewell: “You tore me apart, but I still love you so.”