With proof that a little change never hurt anyone, Detroit’s Fireworks tweak and retool their indie-tinged, hook-laden pop-punk with a huge dose of strong, yet quirky melodies and an ambitious sense of songwriting to take their heartfelt, yet catchy sound to the next level with their second full-length Gospel. Embodying the qualities of the title, Fireworks go huge with the music and for the heart with the words to pull you in hard and get you singing along even louder. Gospel emerges on a rightful pedestal, showing no signs of a sophomore slump to instantly become one of the year’s strongest records.
From the first notes of opener “Arrows”, we can hear that this is not the same band that wrote the ridiculously catchy anthem “Detroit”. But if you think leaving the realm of backbeat-driven bike-riding jams will leave this band worse off, you’d be badly mistaken. Slamming a lush, yet catchy scoop of guitar melodies into “Arrows” gives the mid-tempo rocker a beautiful landscape for Dave Mackinder’s smoother-than-ever vocal lines. “Teeth” follows in a similar path, boasting slower riffs that embody sullenness more than stagediving – yet they still slide into your ears just as easily as Mackinder tells stories of dentists and dandelions. Fireworks can even groove it out with the slower tempos (“Oh, Why Can’t We Start Old and Get Younger”, “Life is Killing Me”), punching out rock-solid guitar-led jams that will refuse to leave your ears.
Everything isn’t a slow down though, as the skate-punk breakneck speed of “I Was Born in the Dark” is a left-field surprise even after several listens. Even without the initial shock, Fireworks sound right in step with themselves as they display more of a varied palate of sonic backgrounds. “We’re Still Pioneers” boasts a whimsy melodic boost as we get hints of later tracks both lyrically (“I Am the Challenger”) and musically (“The Wild Bunch”), all while keeping the meaty pop-punk backbone intact. But in the spirit of their expansion, Fireworks throw even more curves into their structures – “I Am the Challenger” is anchored by mellow acoustic melodies and brushed drums, giving Mackinder the spotlight to open his heart further during his outpour of thoughtful, yet passionate lyrics. It’s a bit jarring at first to hear, as its stripped-down nature is a totally different angle from the band, even for this record. And if at some point you didn’t think it’d get any more ambitious, “The Wild Bunch” boasts a light alt-country feel behind relentless pop-punk, showing oddly fun plucked melodies and a close-knit, albeit daring atmosphere as Mackinder declares ‘You wish you loved anything the way I love my friends’.
Mackinder's lyricism even goes above and beyond on Gospel, capturing line after line of quotable quips and brave declarations to help fuel the proceedings. Whether he is praising those around him ("The Wild Bunch") or dealing with growing up ("Life is Killing Me", "Oh, Why Can't We Start Old and Get Younger"), he has a way with words that doesn't come across as cliche or tacky, all while making solid use of his vocal chords. There are a few shortcomings, as "I Was Born in the Dark" is almost too fast for Mackinder's voice to have the usual impact. But all in all, his contributions help cement what is the biggest and best part of this band's sound - their heart.
Stepping up their game across the board, Fireworks have turned in an opus for the summer. They shed a bit of the pop-punk that lumped them in with so many other bands and matured into a band with the ability to breed their songwriting sensibility into something other bands could only dream of. Only halfway through the year, Fireworks have set the bar high – not only for the scene, but for themselves as well.
2. I Was Born in the Dark
3. X's on Trees
4. We're Still Pioneers
6. Oh, Why Can't We Start Old and Get Younger?
8. Life is Killing Me
9. I Am the Challenger
10. Paintings of Paul Revere
11. I Locked My Time Capsule
12. The Wild Bunch
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