Review Summary: A strong case of déjà vu keeps Direction running in circles and just another Say It Like A True Story.
The boys in The Starting Line are walking a fine line between blissful ignorance and self-parody; after giving the record companies the big, threatening middle finger in their sophomore album, Based On a True Story
, they’re back with their pop-punktastic take on hardcore in Direction
. But Direction
, working that irony that pop-punks seem so oblivious to, are dialing down their almost charmingly impressive rebellion against the big guys upstairs who tried to dictate their sound and now, unsurprisingly, seem to embrace them. Direction
is covered with the fingerprints of tweaks and edits, grinding the wheels past the gravel and down into the dirt; the second track alone features a riff lifted straight from True Story
. It’s disappointing for a band that seemed poised on the verge of maturing into something better.
It’s fitting then that, on an album swaying from imbalance, it slides straight out of the gate with one of the album’s most confusing tracks: ‘Direction’ gets the [mis]fortune of being the title track, jolting from the embarrassing belting of “Breakdown!
” into a hardcore influenced verse (full of punk overtones from staying up late and
growing out the hair, and they just – don’t – care![!!!]
) before, interestingly enough, segueing into the album’s more well tuned chorus. It’s a love-hate relationship that is interchangeable with much of the record, like ’21,’ which apes almost verbatim one of the best songs from Based On a True Story
, ‘Bedroom Talk.’ Fun, fast and an ode to drinking and the consequences of, it’s the stuff hooks are made of and obviously everyone involved believed so too, enough to make the album’s strongest track based completely on a song that was perfectly fine before. But like this AA track, Direction
is the victim of too much: Too much production, keeping every instrument on par with each other so that some songs drop into lulls of dull noise; too much energy that goes from a stellar party album to end the summer into a tiring, boring, derived take on what Set Your Goals got to last summer; and too much of everything the band has already done, settling for half-as
sed recycling and chord changes.
Gone here is the quirky stumble of progressions into maturity that made True Story
weightier than it was because of it; Direction
is just a small step left, only varying slightly with the power-pop ballad ‘Something Left To Give’ that rides on its earnest vocals (Kenny Vasoli is still one of the genre's best) and twinkling guitars and slides. The rest of the album, with its firm grasp on the formulaic verse-chorus-verse-nauseam, is tidy and manicured into tedium, tackling bombast head on. ‘Hurry’ layers its vocals for its metronome verse before a quick pre-chorus that leads into another amplified chorus; ‘Birds’ creates this same atmosphere, instead relying on its steady reverberating guitars to keep tempo. It’s small changes that separate ‘Island’ from ‘Way With Words’ or ‘Are You Alone’’s verses from being straight out of a Saosin (post-Anthony) b-side; there’s that constant creeping feeling of familiarity, like the guitar fiddling that offsets ‘What You Want’ that was done to a sweeter, tighter effect with ‘Stay Where You Are’ (even the song’s climax into the chorus remains the same, albeit with more of a whimper).
But most of what encompasses the album can be summed up in the album’s most telling track, ‘Need to Love,' a more stripped down version of everything that comes before and after it. Its cleaner guitars and sweet back and forth vocals prepare it for a refreshing change of pace, but it’s all frivolous and manipulative, complete with a chorus consisting mainly of the title repeated until the words just mean as little as the passion behind it. Missing the satirical, naïve sexuality of ‘Bedroom Talk’ or the fleeting teenage love of ‘Stay Where You Are’ (or even the overrated Say It Like You Mean It
’s ‘Best of Me’), ‘Need to Love’ sounds like corporate dogs salivating to teenage hearts lined with “When you're in need and desperate to fall asleep, well, ain't it wild? Though aren't you tired?”
But at the end of the day, under its panache for crass, loud hook-and-sinkers, Direction
is The Starting Line “[biting] off a little more than [they] can chew.” Even free of the crippling similarities to its predecessors, Direction
is nothing more than an average retelling of a year that already got to it first and to higher degrees of success. Directionless and an ironic turn of events that finds The Startling Line running in circles, Direction
brings them right back to where they started in Say It Like A True Story
, almost eager to do it all over again.