Young Guns have felt like the odd men out in the British rock scene (at least from over here Stateside). While a whole host of others have made splashes on both sides of the pond, Young Guns have felt like they’ve been held back a little bit, by whatever forces external and internal. On the latter end, the band feel like they’ve held themselves back a bit by not quite settling on a sound and style. Young Guns wants to be two things at once, especially with their two most recent albums. One faction wants to be a heavy alternative rock band, while the other side wants to embrace pianos, synths, and ballads and go for broke as a modern arena pop/rock band. Last year’s Ones and Zeroes went too far in the latter direction, so can Young Guns right the ship and find either a comfortable middle ground or a new direction on album number four?
Thankfully, Echoes jumps out of the gate with a punchy, melodic gem in “Bulletproof”, and “Careful What You Wish For” sounds like a mix of Lostprophets and a power pop ditty, meaning its got the right ratio of might and melody. “Mad World” is easily the best song the band has ever done, even if it sounds like the band covering a long-lost Muse tune. Here the electronic flourishes feel like they add rather than subtract. Elsewhere, the band have discovered how to make the ballads feel necessary (or at least some of them), as “Paranoid” and “Awakening” succeed at using enough of their recent electronic dalliances mixed with very welcome hard rock punch. Credit has to go to vocalist Gustav Wood, as he helps make all these different sounds come together with his earnest, powerful delivery. Despite the questions of the band’s overall sound, his vocals and lyrics have stood out from his peers. He relies a little too much on cliches on Echoes, but not enough to grate.
Not everything works quite so well. The title track and “Mercury in Retrograde” are less successful mid-tempo rockers, where the hooks don’t land. Also, why finish the record with two duds after a mostly upbeat affair? “Paradise” is the stock piano ballad and, while fine, feels unnecessary; ” Afterglow” is more pointless, coming across as a weaker version of the dance-y, mid-tempo rock that other tracks did well. It’s a shame the record ends on two low notes, as the rest of Echoes shows the promise and talent Young Guns clearly have. This isn’t the peak of English rock, nor Young Guns’ potential, but it’s clear the band are back on the up. At its worst, the band’s melodic punch shines through, while the rest of the album allows the group’s love of big riffs and bigger hooks to create truly memorable rock. They’re on the right track, so here’s hoping album number five is Young Guns at their best.