ROAM – ‘Smile Wide’

By Gem Rogers

Some bands seem to be destined to bring sunshine into our days on this cursed earth, and South Coasters ROAM have been doing just that for the last three years. Since the release of debut ‘Backbone’, their brand of pop punk has never really pushed the boat out, but – especially on sophomore ‘Great Heights & Nosedives’ – the five-piece had perfected energetic and uplifting tunes that could brighten any mood.

It’s almost surprising, then, that the band decided to head in a completely different direction with third album ‘Smile Wide’; lead single ‘I Don’t Think I Live There Anymore’ sounded like an entirely different band on its release in July, though not necessarily in a bad way. Its grungy, 90s rock sound still captured the effervescent catchy melodies ROAM have proven themselves so adept at – but how do they fare when attempting to spread that newfound style across ten tracks?

The answer is, unfortunately, not that great. The biggest problem with ‘Smile Wide’ is that it simply doesn’t go anywhere. From the Avril Lavigne-esque, rhythm-centric ‘LOUD’, to the lullaby melodies of ‘Turn’, it feels a bit like an experiment gone not-quite-right. There’s plenty of the grungy, distorted guitar and bass lines introduced by ‘I Don’t Think I Live There Anymore’, and it’s an interesting approach that feels like a hefty throwback without sounding out of place. Sadly, though, there’s just something missing, and the band haven’t quite managed to get their grip firmly enough around this reinvented sound.

The biggest issue seems to be that their focus on trying to make this new, darker sound work has resulted in ROAM losing much of what made them so wonderful in the first place. Gone is the heartfelt positivity, in place of lyrics that try very hard, but ultimately make little connection. ‘The Fire On The Ceiling’ marks a lyrical low point that’s well below the usual standard of songwriting we’ve come to expect from this band, though final track ‘Turn’ makes up for this in spades with its spirited positivity and genuinely emotive vocal delivery.

None of this is to say ‘Smile Wide’ is without merit – there are glimpses of what could be, if ROAM manage to develop this sound into something more meaningful, in the album’s big, melodic choruses and climactic middle-eights. There are hints, too, that these tracks could all sound so much better on stage, particularly the lilting ‘Hand Grenade’ and boppy ‘Better In Than Out’.

Ultimately, ‘Smile Wide’ is frustratingly disappointing. Many of these songs could be classed as ‘growers’, but it’s difficult to be tempted into giving it enough listens to allow that to happen. ROAM are capable of taking this sound further – and past efforts are enough to give us faith that not only can these songs can be brought to life via live performances, but that any future dabbles in this harder rock vibe will see vast improvement. For now, though, it seems we will just have to wait.

GEM ROGERS

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