Johnny Manchild and the Poor Bastards – We Did Not Ask for This Room

FFO: Will Wood, Panic! at the Disco, My Chemical Romance, The Dear Hunter

This has been the year for long albums: Adjy, TWIABP, Scarypoolparty, and Kanye have all released LPs of incredible magnitude. Not to be outdone, Oklahoma City’s Johnny Manchild and the Poor Bastards have dropped their own 14-track album clocking in at just over an hour long. But Manchild and crew trade 20-minute songs in for a diverse cast of influences and instruments (horns and salsa influence, anybody?) in a way that certainly sets them apart from all aforementioned acts (not necessarily in a better or worse way, I should add).

Even with his mini orchestra, Manchild seems to borrow from the theatrics of Panic! at the Disco, K Será, Forgive Durden, or The Dear Hunter. A lot of the “vibe” comes from the piano arrangements, often a staccato pulse providing a rhythmic backbone. Manchild’s voice is a bit of a light croon, which only adds to the cabaret flavor. Indeed, this album is perhaps a less-deranged take on some of Will Wood’s works in some respects. All this to say, the band find themselves among good company here. Oddly enough, none of these artists are shown as related acts on Spotify, so if you’re looking to curate a playlist, here’s the sign you were waiting for.


The main challenge with long albums is distilling the largely context into a bite-sized sample that will invite listeners to engage with the full course, all while making sure that single morsel is truly representative of the whole offering. Easier said than done. Stylistically, the album sits somewhere on the indie/alternative side of the spectrum. The piano-centric nature is absolutely critical, but don’t mistake that to mean these songs lack energy. There’s a punk sort of ethos here at times, with Manchild belting lines here and there with force. But equally prominent is the progressive nature of bands like Queen—more so related to instrumental parts than vocal lines. Then there’s the brass and strings, largely layered to help cement the cinematic nature of the tracks. We Did Not Ask for This Room is a distorted, alternative musical—with an appropriate length, to boot.


But there are exceptions to every rule. Take “Dose,” one of the most rock-oriented tracks on the LP with synth bass and a fury of brass and crushing drums. Distorted, yelled vocals feel closer to The Strokes than any comparison act mentioned so far. Here, Manchild’s alternative and punk influences take more apparent form, while the brass arrangements feel akin to San Fermin. There’s a lot to try to pick apart within just this one track. And even with some of its musical diversions, it’s still cohesive with the other tracks.


“Stars” is another deviant, somewhat reminiscent of early Maroon 5 (pitchforks down, please). It’s faster and fuller than many of the other songs, and it’s great cocktail of the poppier elements of the band’s sound. “Starlight” follows as a short instrumental addendum that segues cleanly into “Sunbeams,” and touches like this only cement the album’s cohesion.

Some standout tracks are “We,” the aforementioned “Dose,” “Sift,” “Stars,” and “The Nothing.” Even within this collection, there’s plenty of variety to behold. There are moments of intensity and those of beauty, ballads and singles, rock and pop, and so much more. To some degree Manchild and friends aren’t doing anything truly novel. But they certainly take a pastiche approach to blending their influences and inspirations to the point that the seams are just barely visible at times.

Like many albums of this length, We Did Not Ask for This Room has its ups and downs. First, the strengths. This is a traditional album in the best ways. None of this 35-minute business. It’s cohesive, there are transitions, and you can actually drive somewhere before it’s done. The theatrical nature, while not overtly conceptual, will appeal to fans of Panic! at the Disco or even My Chemical Romance on the more mainstream side. There’s a little bit of The Black Parade somewhere in here, though personally I’ve never spent a ton of time with that album.

The downsides? It’s not a casual listen in some respects. Not every track works as a single. It might be tempting to treat it as a buffet and take out five or six songs they enjoy and scrap the rest. It’s a release that benefits from the combined experience, but chances are a majority of listeners aren’t that invested. After all, people who like albums have “old souls,” or so I’ve been told.

But at the end of the day, Manchild and team have set the bar high. Critics might have begun planning their year-end lists, but this entry certainly should give them pause before finalizing things too early. Some listeners might be put off by the “theater kid energy,” but the discerning audience will find jazz, emo, and chamber influence all tied together neatly and delivered straight to their ears. And they accomplish this all without egregious song lengths or lyrical pretense, too. It’s a rare mix, but hey, it works.

Keep up with Johnny Manchild and the Poor Bastards on Facebook and Instagram.

Check out these related articles:


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *