Framing Hanley - 'Envy' Album Review
1. Say You Ever
4. Joke's On Us
5. Forgiveness Is An Art
6. Puzzle Pieces
9. The Way Down
10. Throwing Knives
12. Baggage Claim
Framing Hanley are a band with a fractured past. This Nashville five-piece have encountered their fair share of obstacles, from the departure of numerous band members, to losing the support of their record label, to having to crowd-source funds for a new album. To give them credit where credit is due, they persist and continue to overcome with the release of their fourth studio album ‘Envy’, a 12-track album of Pop-Punk and Alternative Rock styled tunes. However, despite the group still surviving into 2020, it’s unfortunate that they still sound so stuck in the past.
As with many other attempts this past year to ‘modernise’ Rock music, this album opens up with a suspiciously trap-influenced track, with tinny electronic hi-hats, hand claps and auto-tuned vocals. This song is very much just a mood setter, as it attempts in vain to build up drama and tension, but doesn’t actually offer any release to this tension. The laughably manipulated background vocals towards the end completely break any sincerity this song had, coming across like a bad attempt at a throwaway cut from Kanye West’s ‘The Life Of Pablo’. This tension builds until the song fades into ‘Bubbles’, an instantly more Alternative Rock-sounding cut that sounds much more like the band’s usual style. However, this transition feels weak and flat, as the tension is ratcheted back down and starts to build again, as though the last two minutes of tension building never happened. Despite this, the second track is a bit more engaging and has a strong, catchy chorus, but it’s one I’ve heard a million times before unfortunately.
‘Misery’ brings something a bit more interesting to the table with its synthesised strings sample adding an extra layer to the band’s sound that fits much better than the previously attempted electronic elements. The heavy drums in the verses sound great here, as does the winding, twisted guitar lead in the second verse, with the backing vocals in the pre-chorus adding a nice bit of drama to the proceedings. ‘Forgiveness Is An Art’ is a similarly strong point on the album, with its heavy, meaty riff sounding completely different to every previous tune. Here, the epic, anthemic sound the band go for actually proves to be quite effective. Framing Hanley are at their best when they go for these heavy, yet expansive atmospheres, which is also mirrored on tracks like ‘Counterfeit’ and ‘Throwing Knives’. This former song is full of well-earned tension and cathartic release and the first chorus stands out as one of the most effective on the record, unfortunately the later choruses devolve into the same template that every other chorus on the album follows. It’s the chorus of these songs where my main issue with this album rears its head though. The lyrics.
The lyrics sound like frontman Kenneth Nixon stumbled across a book filled with the most overused, stereotypical lyrical tropes ever recorded and then he decided to mix and match them at random and call it a song. Each song is filled with clichés that were already beaten to death decades ago. I get it though. They’re catchy songs and they’re not trying to say anything deep, but it’s possible to write a Pop track with a bit more substance than this. It gets to the point where it detracts from tunes that would otherwise have been quite decent. ‘The Way Down’ goes from a really promising song to a cliché-ridden cringe fest in the space of about 50 seconds, whilst ‘Puzzle Pieces’ is based around a metaphor that is completely overdone at this point.
These lyrics are forgivable when the songs are catchy and strong enough to distract you from them, but when the band try their hand at crossover Pop hits, they quickly lose all goodwill they’ve built up. Poppier cuts such as ‘Puzzle Pieces’ and the sickly sweet ‘Baggage Claim’ are grating at best, with the latter sounding like a rejected High School Musical song, although these aren’t even the worst offenders. ‘Joke’s On Us’ starts out tender and genuine with emotionally-charged vocals and lightly strummed guitars, but this is quickly ripped away as the track grows into a complete mess of electronic sounds and a cheesy synth that should’ve stayed back in 2010 where Flo Rida and T.I left it. Whilst the chorus makes up for it somewhat, it is still generic and the reemergence of the synth in the post-chorus section completely took me out of the song.
To use a phrase I’m sure is in the singer’s handbook of lyrics, Framing Hanley try to sound as wide as an ocean on many tracks here, but most of the time they come across as shallow as a puddle. They’re a band with roots very much in 2000s Pop-Punk and Alt Rock that are trying to modernise themselves in the same way that most other bands from around that time are, by adding unnecessary trap and electronic elements that do nothing but neuter their sound and remove any bite the songs once had. Whilst there were a few good songs and moments across this record unfortunately the negatives outweighed the positives for me.
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Review - Spencer Rixon