Back Alley Gospel Bid A Punk Farewell To The One That Got Away In “Old Flames”

Everybody remembers their first love. It just takes a streetwise punk outfit like Ontario’s Back Alley Gospel to see it for the exercise in futility it was.

That kind of clear-eyed reflection abounds on the band’s new single, “Old Flames,” which flashes back to the rosy period in a relationship when you can’t get enough of each other, the smiles come easy and everything is going right. You know, before it all gets shot to hell.

We used to hold hands in the heart of the city
And if I went down, you were right there with me
But you had bigger plans, wanted better things
And it took its toll on everything
This old flame was bound to burn out one of these days

“No matter how badly things ended, we all remember our old flame,” the band says. “The person we’d do anything for, who was there for you thick and thin, the spark that lit a fire inside of you. But we all grow up, grow older and our priorities change.”

The song, they explain, is meant to tell “the nostalgic story of reminiscing about that first special someone, from the records that you listened to in your formative years to the trouble you’d get into together. You both knew it would end one day, and while that inevitability doesn’t make the memory less bittersweet, you’ll always have a place for it in your heart.”

That’s the glass half-full version. Lyrics that acknowledge “The secrecy and shame/At the mention of your name/ Makes me feel like shit” point to something a little less centered. And thank God. Because it’s the dichotomy between sadder-but-wiser introspection and good old-fashioned bitterness that makes the track kick so hard. On the one hand, the relentlessly major-keyed melody line and chord pattern that vocalist/guitarist Trent White lays down are pure hand-holding pop-punk; on the other hand, there’s no mistaking the fury in the rhythm being slammed out by drummer Matt Bellissimo and bassist Jen Benton as they connect with the vehemence of the Pistols in their prime. Extra excitement comes from Jose Batista’s guitar leads, which revel in an almost rockabilly twang before exploding in a flurry of shred.

“Old Flames” is the first track to drop from the band’s upcoming four-song EP, their first release since their 2023 debut, Hold Up Your Head. They say the new record will follow the lead of the current single by being an unsparing exploration of defeat and its aftermath—a concept record about the realization that “failure is sometimes inescapable, but necessary for us to grow, change and become better people.”

It’s a philosophy near and dear to heart of this self-effacing people’s band, who admit freely that they only came to exist after a string of doomed projects in their native Toronto and Hamilton. Proudly presenting themselves as “no strangers to failure,” they know it’s their previous flameouts that have allowed them to properly hone their brand of anthemic, hook-driven punk.

But if their past was defined by falling down, their present is a study in standing tall. Come on in and learn how rewarding failure can be.