Boy bands seem like yet another trend to slowly thaw from the COVID ice, as Why Don’t We’s sophomore album “The Good Times and the Bad Ones” makes a (so far) relatively minor splash in the charts. While perfectly serviceable as background bubblegum pop, the album’s timing and lyrical themes of loneliness and nostalgia help distinguish it from Spring’s impending flood of pop music.
Being an LA-based band, Why Don’t We manage to set themselves apart from the general boyband mold with a sensual yet relaxed beach boy aesthetic. None of the songs are what I would call heart-pumping or intense, but the members’ clearly experienced, melodic and surprisingly varied vocal performances do wonders with the inconspicuous beat. It’s one of those rare instances where both individual parts and the layered choruses fit well in their own respective niches. It seldom soars or experiments, instead opting for pleasant, stable quality all around.
Now, to tackle the interesting, and I think overlooked part of the album: the lyrical content. “The Good Times and the Bad Ones” stays mostly consistent in how it tackles loneliness, nostalgia and the feeling of longing, all amplified in the listeners’ minds in the current times. The title itself is a reference to nostalgia, as is the cover resembling a slightly faded old photo.
Loneliness and ‘the good times‘
Let’s start with the most basic kind of nostalgia – nostalgia for days past. Remember when you could actually do things with your friends? Right off the bat, “Fallin’ (Adrenaline)”, while a simple fun bop on the surface, also helps remind you of those times. Those fun, youthful moments you’ve been missing out on for the past year and foreseeable future. The later “Lotus Inn” picks this theme up, with the singer caught in an elated intimate moment which he obviously doesn’t want to end. Oh, the irony.
Loneliness and melancholy
This transitions well from reminiscing about the good times past, to the current longing to relive those moments. As we drift towards a slightly more despondent part of the album, songs like “I’ll Be Okay” and “Love Song” talk about rockier relationships, where overwhelming loneliness and mutual longing overshadows what problems the couples do have. It’s a relatively more nuanced take on an otherwise simple topic, and the diverse ways this is addressed helps make it that much more vivid.
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Loneliness and regret
Now finally, arguably the darkest and coincidentally the most emotionally tense songs. “Be Myself” and “Grey” because they address a part of nostalgia that is rarely addressed in the mainstream – the bad times. The relationships on show here are quite complex, mutually painful and perhaps even abusive in some ways. Yet they still confront the heartache people with destructive partners feel, the attachment and broken hopes addressed through the singers’ high and intentionally shaky vocals. Combine it with a soft, distinctly melodic sound, and you really get the impression of the singer slowly breaking down as they delve into this personal and difficult topic.
While lofi, minimalistic penultimate “Look At Me” is forgettable, the final “Stay” is not only the most dynamic track, but combines both the dramatic and aloof parts of the band’s performance into a truly encapsulating piece. If you can only listen to one song on the album, the last one is it.
While the songs don’t actually go in the aforementioned order, the order this article lists them is the best way to experience the album’s emotional transition. It creates a more gradual and distinct atmosphere, without any transition feeling too jarring.
The boy band wallflower
I do usually prefer to stay on the positive – such as the concise coverage of different spectrums of loneliness – I do want to address some cardinal flaws on hand here. Why Don’t We’s sound, while increasingly well-defined, still doesn’t do enough to really stand out. It’s too aloof to be party music, and too tense to be a particularly relaxing experience, leaving a pleasant but overall unremarkable package. Yet another boy band. This lack of true focus or distinction, along with some iffy song placement choices, is what truly holds the album back from achieving a real emotional gutpunch with its admittedly interesting lyrics, or truly climbing the charts.
While not without its issues, for a sophomore effort by a relatively unestablished group, it’s still a very pleasant listen. Whether you want to delve into the lyrics, and relate them to your own timely heartache, or just need five pretty faces and even prettier voices to get you through the day – I say give this relative underdog a bit of support.