Album Review: Versus the World – The Bastards Live Forever

“I’m aware that I’m an atom bomb. Start off with the best intentions, but I just fuck everyone. I’m aware that I do more harm than good.” Caustic self-analysis and deep questioning of one’s moral worth may not be alien to the punk genre, but rarely are they done in such powerful, memorable fashion as on Versus the World‘s new album The Bastards Live Forever. Throughout this collection of tuneful, stand-out tracks, veteran songwriting and musicianship are charged with youthful energy, with powerful results.

The quote above comes from “Roadsick/Roadsick”, a kinetic, high-velocity track with reflective lyrics that are at times self-eviscerating, but coming from a place of redemptive self-awareness that tells you the narrator is searching for a better path forward. It’s clear it’s coming from a real place, and not just a singer ragging on themselves to be relatable to an audience of self-hating teens. This maturity shines throughout the album.

Opener “Frank Sinatra” has a number of layers; a person looking for hope in their own future despite where they came from (“Did you know that Frank Sinatra came from nothing?”), questioning themselves and their own morality (“Are we the ugly things that we do?”), and enduring through bad times (“Take it or leave it. It’s not the first time I’ve been down and out.”). Singer Donald Spence continues his personal journey over Thin Lizzy-style guitars and crescendoing drums on “Looking For the Exit”, as he acknowledges he’s “still that pissed-off sixteen year old kid” choosing to runaway from his problems. He also faces his own inherited trauma (“I’m a runaway, born to a runaway”), causing him to realize it’s not a surprise he’s turned out how he has.

None of these songs would work as well as the do if the music backing them wasn’t 100% on point. The melodies are consistently sticky sweet, even when hitting harder, darker notes like on the prog-influenced “The Lights of Rome” or brutal “The Miserable”. Spence’s vocals lay somewhere between Patrick Stump’s and Claudio Sanchez’s, reaching anthemic heights while fortified with an undeniable soulfulness. The guitars bring in influences from glam and hair metal, giving songs an extra dose of flair (see “Poison in the Well”), while the rhythm section isn’t afraid to take unexpected turns, such as on the near-waltz “Are You There Dad? It’s Me.”

But of course, what makes any punk/pop-punk/post-punk album truly one for the ages are great hooks, and this album has them in spades. One of the best comes on “Your Wedding and a Funeral”, as Spence sings “It’s habitual. You saw a wedding, I saw a funeral” and makes it an allegory for a couple’s divergent world views. I can already see and hear crowds chanting this back to the band in concert.

Spence has said “I’d always been taught that if what you were working on wasn’t (what you thought) was your best… start over. Never put anything into the world that you were not absolutely sure of.” I’m here to assure him he and the rest of Versus the World have definitely put their best foot forward with The Bastards Live Forever.

The album comes out on Friday, May 26 on SBÄM Records. Listen to the latest single here!


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