You can't blame Citizen for trying, but as the Midwestern band's recent output shows, sometimes trying too hard can do more harm than good. The band's debut, 2013's Youth, was a potent blend of pop-punk, grunge and emo that struck a chord with fans. But they were still young, and it showed, and the next step was to push themselves creatively, to seek out a sound that represented more than a melange of their quite visible influences.
The followup, Everybody Is Going to Heaven, was that exploratory endeavour that, while undercooked, showed the band were reaching beyond what they had learned from others. Now, on their third record, the band seem stuck. At its best, As You Please adds a flourish to the heartfelt simplicity of Youth and sands down the jagged edges of the scattered Everybody Is Going to Heaven. At its worst, it does the opposite, slowing the melancholic pacing to a near-halt or blowing the top off a perfectly fine song with grungy overkill.
Citizen are a band that thrive on the sensitive and emotive, yet much of As You Please insists upon thundering brutishness. The guitars are thick and burly, even during what should be their quietest and most pensive moments. When they do find a nice groove, they often end up yanking themselves out of it with ill-timed shifts in mood or tempo (see the bridge of "Medicine," the pre-chorus stretches of "Ugly Luck" or the bizarre intro to "Fever Days"). Among the slow jams, "Control" is a graceful power-ballad, while "As You Please" and "Discrete Routine" are full of feeling but are ultimately just too sluggish.
Whereas Youth was filled with earnest and quickly memorable lines to be shouted by crowds of (mostly young) people to whom those words had spoken, the songs on As You Please are wordier and harder to parse. Take the chorus of "Jet," for example: "All of our ears to the floorboards / My eyes are falling everywhere / I know who's in the backyard / But who's that living in our home?" While the song is so forceful and upbeat that kids will no doubt still scream it at the stage, its opaqueness might make it harder to connect with than an older favourite like "The Night I Drove Alone." As You Please does have some genuinely poetic moments, though, including one particularly emphatic line: "It's such a shame that still no one likes looking up when they are lost," from "Flowerchild."
When Citizen strike the right balance, it can be fantastic. Among the album's more emotionally charged moments are the towering "World" and the hypnotic "You Are a Star," while smouldering closer "Flowerchild" just shies away from being spectacular. "In the Middle of it All" is the coolest track, thanks to brooding verses, groovy choruses and Kerekes' angelic, Queen-esque refrain; it's the kind of tasteful artistic innovation this band should keep striving toward.
The thing with As You Please is that while it feels uneventful, it also seems like Citizen might be just on the edge of a breakthrough. (Run For Cover)