Bang?: A Review of AJR’s New Single

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In the week since AJR’s new single, “Bang!,” has been released, here are all the ways I’ve heard it described: 

  • Nihilism
  • “Don’t Throw Out My Legos” Part II
  • “God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.” (Friedrich Nietzsche, quoted by Chidi Anagonye, quoted by Haley Cappone)
  • “Don’t Throw Out My Legos,” but worse
  • The Penguins standing on Antarctica in Madagascar, shivering and filled with regret
  • “Don’t Throw Out My Legos” mixed with “The Entertainment’s Here”
  • The fish floating in the water at the end of Finding Nemo going “Now what?”
  • And, my personal favorite, “It’s fucking weird, man. It’s weird…but it’s a jam??? It’s just, I don’t know, ‘Bang Bang Bang! Here we go…’” (Caitlin Spielvogel after a couple drinks)

In short, we’ve heard better. That’s not to say that my friends and I don’t like “Bang!;” we enjoyed it well enough. As a group of college seniors, “Bang!” hits at everything we feel right now about growing up and leaving college behind (without any of us ever actually feeling grown-up), just like so many songs on Neotheater did. 

The problem is, we loved Neotheater because we’d never heard anything like it before. AJR put the thoughts we hardly knew how to voice to music, and gave us a medium to start having a real discussion about how we were feeling. And now we have “Bang!,” and it’s a new song, but not a new concept. We’ve already heard it before; we’ve already had that conversation. For a band that’s promised to always give us something new, “Bang!” is a let down. 

Recently, it just seems like AJR has been more concerned with being clever and strange than being original. While these things on the surface seem to be the same, they’re not. 

“Bang!” has eight references to prior AJR songs and albums, which is a fun little series of Easter eggs, but also a big part of what’s holding the song back from really stepping out into unexplored territory. If the band is going to stay obsessed with making little jokes about what came before, they’re going to miss the experiences they’re having now, and we’re going to miss having the conversations we could and should be having around those experiences. I personally can’t wait for the rest of the Turning Out saga. I want to hear more about the impact their non-music careers (Adam’s work with the UN, whatever Ryan and Jack have been doing with Pixar*) have had on their perspectives of life. What are their relationships like? Do they stay in contact with people from college? How do you make friends when you’re an adult? Whatever happened to the optimism we had when we were younger–the optimism that bleeds out of Living Room? Do we spend forever missing it, or is losing it a necessary part of growing up? Is adult life only going to be cynical?

If AJR continues as they are, they’re at risk of becoming one-trick ponies. The music, even if it’s genuine, is starting to feel like they’re selling out to what they know (or think they know) will be successful instead of actually taking any risks. I miss the magic of hearing “Next Up Forever” for the first time. My heart doesn’t feel sucker-punched by “Bang!” the same way it was by “Don’t Throw Out My Legos.” I smile when I listen to “Come Hang Out.” I feel seen and understood when I listen to “Karma.” I don’t really react one way or another when I hear “Bang!”

The strangest part of all this, and therefore what I guess is the most interesting, is the music video. I was so focused on watching the Met brothers the first time I saw it that I missed the people around them until I gave it a second watch later. I don’t even know what’s supposed to be happening there. No one does. If you scroll through the Youtube comments, it’s just a long record of people freaking out over the song and absolute, teeming confusion. My English-major brain has been scrambling to find the meaning in all this since I watched the video, and I’ve failed completely. It means nothing. Nothing means anything anymore. 

Most people are fearfully drawing the conclusion that AJR is done with music, which makes sense. Given the lyrics of “Bang!,” paired with a one-off verse in Neotheater’s “Finale,” the vibe most of us are getting strongly implies that AJR is tired of pouring themselves out for the sake of the music. It’s exhausting to be creative all the time, after all. It’s hard to constantly come up with something new, and original, and unexpected, and not to mention it’s almost impossible to do perfectly every time anyway. 

On that note, however, I would like to see AJR keep making music. I believe in them and the work they’re doing. I’d even go so far as to argue that they’re some of the greatest musicians and lyricists of our generation. “Bang!” just doesn’t match their merit though, and I wish they had taken the time they needed to make and put out something meaningful instead of jumping back in before they were ready.

*Spoiler alert, they’re working on the new Soul movie, and they keep acting like it’s a secret when it’s just so clearly…not.

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