Words by Danielle Chelosky
Real Friends have been trying their best from the beginning. From being a self-proclaimed “lost boy with bony knees” in Put Yourself Back Together to starting to be where he needs to be three years later in The Home Inside My Head, the inward journey only continues with this new record. Composure manifests an even deeper, more matured introspective exploration into struggles with accepting the past, dealing with uncertainty, handling toxic relationships, and overcoming instability. While doing so, Real Friends perfects the pop punk phenomenon: managing to uphold an upbeat, optimistic sound and have some fun despite all of the lyrical self doubt and regret.
When it comes to Real Friends, the issue of instability has been evident since their earliest work. Nothing different should be expected from pop punk, and Real Friends have become a staple of modern pop punk with their well-known “sleepy eyes and bony knees” mantra and their songs about driving around late at night and giving up on people. This time, rather than accepting the unhappy state the band has been singing about for years, Real Friends fight back in an attempt to, verbatim, reclaim composure. Even if with just their last album they celebrated upgrading from a trainwreck to a mess in the popular Mess, the band is making it clear that they’re raising the stakes.
Even so, as progress is made, the record continues to introduce a multitude of internal wars being fought. With every issue comes an overpowering uncertainty clouding the lost boy’s judgment and only conceiving more questions. It starts with persistent insecurities in ‘Smiling on the Surface’ — “Am I telling myself the truth about my self esteem and how others place their worth in me?” — and extends outward in ‘Hear What You Want’ — “If I disappear would you notice I’m not here?”— threatening his ability to maintain relationships. From these uncertainties, only more negativity stems; he finds himself “…caught up in an empty room / Filled with second thoughts and gloom.”
These uncertainties also reach backward and hinder his ability to reflect. He wonders, “Can I shoulder the burden? / Can I stomach the past?” and laments on his regrets and his failure to bury unwanted memories. However, it’s a learning experience — “My bed sheets are laced with regret / I tried to fill in the lines / Rework the plans for a better design” — and as much of a mess as he is, all that matters is that something useful can be derived from all of the mistakes and regrets. Instead of remedying personal turmoil with listening to sad songs in his car on late nights, Real Friends have garnered new, and more effective, ways to handle it all in the long run. No matter how miserable Real Friends can be, this record proves that strength can be mustered up if the effort is taken. ‘Stand Steady’ conveys the improvement with one mere sentence: “Looking back on my youth it’s good that I grew.” And that growth gradually reveals itself through more mature choruses.
Along with the internal battles, this record expands on the potent impact external factors can have on an individual’s inner state. For instance, toxic relationships become the issue at hand for quite a few songs, especially in ‘Unconditional Love’ and ‘Rip Cord’. In the former, Real Friends almost disguise a harsh critique of unconditional love as a generic love song with its title. Frequently, unconditional love is glamorized and praised within the realm of mainstream media, and this is where Real Friends challenge the entire approval around it. “You let me down / But you’ll never let me go,” he sings, and then later begs, “Spare me the anxiety, it’s not fair / And let me go.” Unconditional love, depending on the circumstances, can be healthy, but not in this situation. Not everything should be unconditional.
In ‘Rip Cord’, he sings of a relationship in which he is only appreciated when being used — “You’re selfish until you need me more” — and declares a lack of a trust. Yet, by the end, he succumbs to these standards —“I was hoping that you’d need me more” — which means as much as Real Friends are growing and prospering, we will see more of these angsty anthems about heartbreak and regret in the future.
Ultimately, Real Friends are growing up at a safe pace. Closing the record with ‘Take A Hint’, they clarify that they have, in fact, derived knowledge and hope out of all of their experiences — “I’m learning to take a hint, stay convinced, and that we might see a sign for what it is” — and hopefully their fans are doing the same. Either way, Real Friends concludes with one simple message: “We’ll swing safely through the dark and carry on.”
© July 13, 2018
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