AWOLNATION's Masterpiece: 'Here Come the Runts'
I'll tell you right off the bat that this will be a biased album review. AWOLNATION is one of my (if not my absolute) favorite bands and I fangirl over Aaron Bruno as a songwriter harder than I fangirl about anything else. In 2016 I saw them twice while living in New York City, and later that summer my friend drove me two hours to Scranton, Pennsylvania to see them perform at FuzzFest. Last year, my friend and I planned a trip to Boston that specifically coincided with AWOLNATION performing at Tour de Fat. And just two days ago—on Valentine's Day—I made my boyfriend go with me to see them at the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago.
Yeah. I really like AWOLNATION.
So while I made sure to give a disclaimer about how much I adore AWOLNATION, it doesn't mean I can't make objective observations about bands I love. (I adore the Red Hot Chili Peppers, but I can admit when they release absolute trash. Specifically The Getaway.) And with that in mind, I can tell you that—objectively—Here Come the Runts is a fantastic album.
It's been three years since AWOLNATION's last album and Aaron Bruno certainly made it worth the wait. Here Come the Runts is by far the best AWOLNATION album yet, and it is certainly the best rock album I've heard in recent years.
Similar to Megalithic Symphony and Run, Here Come the Runts opens with an opening track of the same name, and just like its predecessors the introduction builds up excitement and give you a taste for the rest of the album. "Passion" follows the album intro, and according to Red Bull Records, the album's first single was inspired after Bruno was criticized for lacking passion on his last album Run (I totally disagree, and you can read about it here).
Following "Passion" is a song that clocks in around 2 minutes and 20 seconds called "Sound Witness System", and I have had it on repeat since I downloaded the full album earlier this month. It's one of my favorite songs on the album, but not every AWOL fan agrees with me. People don't seem to like it, and there's a heated Reddit thread about whether or not Bruno is the one rapping for the first half of the song (it's also debated whether or not it even counts as its own song, or just a long outro to "Passion"). Regardless of opinions on the song, "Sound Witness System" shows the band's ability to leap out of their comfort zone and experiment with a new style—and it definitely worked.
After the spectacular oddity that is "Sound Witness System", Bruno jumps into "Miracle Man", a song that is much truer to the traditional quick and repetitive AWOL sound. In fact, the sound reminds me a lot of "Burn It Down" from Megalithic Symphony. The album then slows down and warms up a bit with "Handyman"; the most ballad-y song on the album.
It's hard to describe the band's unique sound, but I think Newsday perfectly summed up Bruno's lyrical style by describing his songs as being effectively self-deprecating but charming. This is certainly expressed in a song like "Jealous Buffoon", with lyrics that state "You can tell that I'm a jealous buffoon[...]I never think I'll ever get used to your body...cruisin' your body". Per usual, Bruno's derogatory lyrics toward himself are endearing and excitingly relatable.
Thrown in the middle of Here Come the Runts is another single from the album called "Seven Sticks of Dynamite". With a less metal, heavy sound, the song gives us a very traditional rock feel that is reminiscent of Bruno's influences, including The Cars, Fleetwood Mac, Tom Petty, and Bruce Springsteen. A short ditty called "A Little Luck and a Couple Dogs" follows, and it perfectly highlights Bruno's sensitive side.
Possibly the best song on the album (and maybe my favorite AWOL song ever) is "Table for One"—a fine depiction of the angsty-yet-romantic lyrics Bruno has always been capable of:
'Cause I don't want you to leave
I wanna tell you good dreams
And with a little luck you can stay
'Cause I don't want you to leave
"Table for One" has a great chorus. It's perfect for car karaoke. Or shower karaoke. Or just anywhere karaoke.
As the album gradually progresses, Bruno gives us more songs that are more on par with classic AWOL sound. "My Molasses", for example, is a song I'd deem traditionally Bruno and once again, perfectly exemplifies that self-deprecating attitude he pours into his songs so well:
I thought the party started quarter to nine
Soon after found out that I'd ruined the surprise
They all just stood there laughing loud as can be
Like sugar canes my face was melting
Moving on, and at the risk of sounding like a suburban soccer mom, I swear I had a visceral reaction to "Cannonball". The song literally made me exhale a soft "damn", and perhaps saying it's 'raunchy' isn't the right term. Maybe I just wasn't expecting Bruno to yell "Shoot like a cannonball / Fuck like an animal" in my ear, but let's be honest, I'm glad he did. Echoing, heavy drums in the following song, "Tall, Tall Tale", certainly represent the aforementioned rock influences for this album
Following a short instrumental piece called "The Buffoon" the album ends on a six minute-long song called "Stop that Train". While I absolutely love "Knights of Shame" and "Drinking Lightning" from AWOL's previous albums, I don't really dig the final track on Here Come the Runts. And I honestly can't even really pinpoint why, but I think relative to the rest of the album I found myself bored listening to it.
See? I don't have to love every second of an AWOLNATION album (but that really is my only complaint).
While it's no surprise I liked this album, I'm still amazed by just how obsessed I am with it. So as an AWOLNATION fan and rock music lover, I urge you to listen to Here Come the Runts. On repeat. For the rest of your life.