Handguns have always stood alongside the likes of The Wonder Years as a pop punk band with something more interesting to say, rather than the same staid messages about friendship and unity, and ‘Disenchanted’ is another similarly strong effort thematically.
Opener ‘Self Portrait’ kicks off with a quote from Paul Dano’s character, Dwayne, from Little Miss Sunshine. It’s a quote about fitting in and sitting on the outside. “Life is one fucking beauty contest after another,” he says. “You do what you love and fuck the rest,” he concludes after his little rant. And it’s these two message that stand out strong throughout ‘Disenchanted’.
‘Self Portrait’ paints a picture of someone struggling to fit in, lack of self-confidence and isolation, while ‘The Worst In Me’ talks about grief, black clouds and anxiety. It’s to Handguns’ immense credit that they can talk about these mental health issues with a light touch and speak to their fanbase – many of whom may be dealing with similar issues without being patronising or condescending – as equals, drawing on their own experiences.
There’s a danger that such an album could have been too dense, but there’s some monstrously big choruses and huge hooks to lighten the tone. ‘My Lowest Point’, ‘Low Spirits’ and the title track are all emotionally weighted but real earworms that will have you singing along almost instantly.
Indeed, when they’re tackling issues of mental health, Handguns seem very much in their comfort zone – and are, in fact, very good at it. Yet it’s when they step away from this sphere that things take something of a tumble. ‘Carbon Copy Elitist’ may be a throwaway interlude, but it’s also pretty dreadful. Of course, there may be a reason for its inclusion, but it feels at turns self-indulgent and breaks the flow and message of the album. It’s a shame as when ‘Disenchanted’ is good, it is spectacularly so.
That said, ‘Disenchanted’ is one of the most important pop punk records you will hear all year. Pop punk albums are rarely credited for their intelligence or for the strength of songwriting, yet Handguns have delivered on both fronts.
‘Disenchanted’ by Handguns is out now on Pure Noise Records.
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Words by Rob Mair (@BobNightMair)