Words by Joe Gilbertson
The New Wave of Edgy Pop, as it should at this point be officially named – has well and truly arrived, fully formed and utterly detestable. Following from the huge success of bands like Twenty One Pilots – and to a lesser extent, PVRIS – Andy Biersack, vocalist of pop-metal heartthrobs and self-proclaimed rebels Black Veil Brides has moved into pure pop territory on his début solo album, released under the new moniker Andy Black and promoted largely by his own cheekbones.
The Shadow Side takes Black Veil Brides’ long-established formula of big, sing-along pop-rock choruses and nausea-inducing, generic tweenage self-help lyrics and waters it down to a whole new level of inanity, mainly switching the limp, impotent guitars for synths and drum machines. Musically the album is lavishly adorned to tasteless extremes – every single second of the album’s runtime seems carefully planned out and constructed to be as catchy, hook-laden and detailed as possible. The basslines are catchy, the synths are catchy, every backing vocal and guitar part is catchy. Fuck, even the reverb is catchy. There’s not a single thing that could have been added here – every glitchy synth and electronic effect that could have been included was, twice. Start-to-finish, every second of this album is a clusterfuck of ideas that collectively amount to essentially nothing.
While ‘We Don’t Have to Dance’ is a genuinely well-accomplished pop song where even the low-brow edgy-teenager lyrics seem to work, wrapped up with some enjoyable synth parts and decent vocals, most songs here stagger through their forced hooks so lifelessly it’s hard to take Biersack’s transition to electronic pop as anything other than a business decision. With Black Veil Brides, Biersack has seemed almost compelled to defend his authenticity by describing his band as “rock ‘n roll” as much as possible and even throwing in the occasional dire screamed vocal; here he seems to believe that by changing his name and going solo, releasing a lacklustre pop album should be accepted as some kind of artistic statement, rather than just an attempt to take his success to a higher level.
The lyrics on this release show Biersack at his most uninspired yet, lumbering together predictable clichés safe in the knowledge that his audience takes his every word as beautiful and life-changing gospel. On ‘Stay Alive’ he tells us to “stay alive for the good times // stay alive through the bad”, on ‘Beautiful Pain’ he sings about remembering the good times with a dead loved one in a way so unpoetic it winds up feeling embarrassing for the corpse. ‘Drown Me Out’ is the sort of generic “you’re not taking me down” shite that Black Veil Brides have been churning out for some years now, but with its awkward cross between pop-punk and horribly over-produced pop, it’s about as invigorating or empowering as Simple Plan.
Despite the clear attention to detail that has clearly gone into every aspect of the production and songwriting on this record, it offers incredibly little besides a long slew of boring vocal hooks and the occasional homeopathic dose of Biersack’s glam rock and punk influences, as if in an attempt to salvage some degree of personality. Opener ‘Homecoming King’ is by far the most intriguing track, creating some enjoyably atmospheric sections both with electronics and orchestral instruments, but following that point Biersack seems content to drift through the remaining twelve songs without any real aims besides getting some good hit singles. Andy Black looks set to be Biersack’s most lucrative persona to date, but his only real achievement here is creating something even less compelling than Black Veil Brides.