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.
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.