Review Summary: If you like Anberlin, you should listen to this. Like, right now.
Had they not broken up in the summer of 2006, I think there’s a fair chance that Acceptance would right now have the following of a Paramore or Angels and Airwaves, with all the mainstream radio airplay and Warped Tour headlining runs that come with that level of success. At the very least, they would have been quasi-gods among the Alternative Press faithful and would be knocking on the door of mainstream popularity anyway. They had all the prerequisites needed for a great melodic rock band: a great vocalist, a strong surrounding band, major label support, and above all, a knack for writing really catchy songs that at the same time never really got on your nerves. Basically they ruled and I’m pissed they broke up because now all their legacy consists of are two EPs, this full-length, a song on the Stealth
soundtrack (the worst movie imaginable that could feature Jessica Biel), and a rumor that they kicked their first drummer out of the band for being a homosexual.
This is a real shame because Phantoms
is close to being as good as a melodic rock record can be and there’s every reason to think they could have improved on this. There isn’t much depth to the lyrics and virtually every song (with the exception of the instrumental “Ad Astra Per Aspera”) has the same structure and basic sound. In other words, Acceptance wasn’t immune to the clichés of the genre; at the same time, they did this thing so well it didn’t matter. Jason Vena’s vocals always came through in crystal-clear, perfectly-on-pitch fashion and avoided being whiny or nasally like so many of his contemporaries. Much like Anberlin’s Stephen Christian (one of many parallels between Anberlin and Acceptance), Vena was capable of really belting out and emphasizing higher notes in his delivery without losing any control of the melody. I would consider going gay for him, but if the rumor at the end of the first paragraph is in fact true, it would seem rather unlikely that he would take me up on that offer. Probably for the best, to be honest.
The beauty of Phantoms
is that it couples Vena’s superb vocals with a more-than-capable band that, while never completely stealing the spotlight, perfectly accents and complements its vocalist. Stylistically, Acceptance’s sound was comparable to a poppier Anberlin (if that’s possible) with guitar work similar to that of Gatsby’s American Dream (though sharing nothing with the latter’s fondness for irregular song structures); occasionally in their poppiest moments, you could make a valid comparison between them and Maroon 5 (minus any funk/soul components of the latter’s music).
The requirements of a band in this genre are pretty simple – stay the hell out of your vocalist’s way and make your occasional fills halfway interesting. On Phantoms
, Acceptance does not tread on its prized vocalist’s toes, but they always figure out the right way to match his vocals to the music and then throw in little extra layers like an interesting guitar fill or a different bass melody to add an extra dimension to their sound. On top of that, the album flows ridiculously well; each song is perfectly constructed and sounds really cohesive and also wastes no momentum with extraneous filler. Songs like “Take Cover,” “The Letter,” and “Glory/Us” hit hard and take no wrong detours; frankly, more than half of the songs on Phantoms
are perfect pop songs and of the rest, only “So Contagious” could possibly be classified as filler.
Acceptance wasn’t a band of musical genius in the same way that we consider Radiohead or Pink Floyd or The Mars Volta to be, but I would argue that writing a really good three-or-four minute pop song is sometimes just as hard, if not harder, than writing some really technical or progressive material. Right now, there is a glut of bands and artists that are trying to write catchy songs that don’t suck and off the top of my head, I can think of maybe six or seven that are consistently really good at it. That is the biggest reason why Acceptance is missed – they were one of the few that didn't suck. Oh well. At the very least, Phantoms
still exists as evidence of their excellence and as a reminder to the rest of us that we were really stupid for not finding out about this band when they were still around. Highly recommended for fans of Anberlin, Paramore, and Maroon 5.