When Sleeping With Sirens first started working on their fourth album, the follow-up to their near US smash ‘Feel’, there was a certain amount of pressure to succeed. They had left their label – ostensibly to set up on their own, though they are now signed to Epitaph – and they needed to follow-up their hit with another one.
It did not go well. After laying down 13 songs in a studio in Nashville, they were not happy and so turned to pop-punk’s super-producer-in-chief, John Feldmann, whose input has helped guide the likes of 5 Seconds Of Summer, All Time Low, Good Charlotte and others to the business end of the charts. The plan was to record a couple of songs with him to bump up what they already had; the results were so good they scrapped the Nashville album and started again with Feldmann.
Listening to Madness, it’s easy to see why. If it is possible to formulate the DNA of a textbook teen pop-punk record, condense it, and mainline it, then that it was Sleeping With Sirens have done here. Each song is so expertly written to induce mobile phones in the air or arena sing-alongs it’s as if each chorus has been focus grouped in high school the length and breadth of America. It makes for an album so engineered towards delivering hits that, though it will never impress anyone within the post-hardcore scene Sleeping With Sirens are supposed to inhabit, it absolutely deserves its inevitable rampant success.
Like a high school rom com, there is a very stylised view of teen life here. Opener Kick Me delivers furious angst, singer Kellin Quinn screaming “you don’t know shit about me … fuck you and your decision” in a rage that avoids being a tantrum only by dint of the incredibly focussed, taut songwriting behind it. Go Go Go follows it and already sounds like a summer hit – all urgent guitars, stunning pop melodies, boy/girl relationships, lyrics about growing up and big woohoos. In fact, go through the record and there’s barely a song that couldn’t be a single: Gold floats gently before delivering another arena-sized anthem then, later, Left Alone broods with anxiety, while the acoustic Madness delivers delicacy and prettiness in abundance.
But in an album stuffed with pop-punk hooks and sweet spot melodies, there are two moments that really stand out. Save Me A Spark is an almost perfect piece of pop writing – immediate, and insanely catchy – while the uplift of Fly is probably the best song on a record that flits from heartbreak to relationships to anger.
Sleeping With Sirens existence within the rock world will, quite rightly, grate with those who find that their sort of deftly engineered, commercial songwriting does not belong. However, as a pure pop record, this is a work so streamlined towards success that it is almost an evil kind of genius.