Review Summary: At some point, Go:Audio decided this album was good enough to release, and to be uncomfortably blunt, they were wrong.
Debut releases are enigmatic and frankly quite special things. Often naïve and young, bands desperate to get their break on the big stage have a fair number of things going for them. Firstly, they’re grounded: untouched by fame and fortune, they usually are able to pass as relatable and normal human beings, not removed from the real world like the world’s biggest bands usually appear to be. Secondly, they’re not trying to live up to the sound or the success of any previous work, lest it be a low-distribution EP or some other sort of preliminary material. And thirdly, they have a hell of a lot more time to get things right. Fans are less likely to be sitting around in impatient anticipation of Go:Audio’s 2009 LP Made-Up Stories than they would have been for The Killers’ Day & Age, or, to keep it slightly more in-genre, Blink's next album. All of these things are confusing to some degree, because although they do manage to be occasionally relatable, at some point, Go:Audio sat down together and decided that this album was good enough to release into the big wide world, and to be uncomfortably blunt, they were wrong.
If you choose to afford this London-based pop-rock quartet the generous benefit of the doubt, you might consider that chaos and drama surrounding the release of this album is the reason it is so unequivocally terrible. This, however, would be a pretty poor excuse, since the track listing has barely changed in the months between the previously planned release date and May 11, and their 2008 EP contained 3 of the same songs as well. Made-Up Stories will be pretty hyped amongst the kind of circles where Scouting For Girls are considered edgy, and we are forced to assume that’s the audience they’re aiming at – hopefully with an assault rifle of some kind. According to their Wikipedia page, Go:Audio’s unique selling point is their intriguing use of electronics, synths and the like to accompany the basic pop-punk (read: pop) sound and give it a modern, dancy feel.
So still affording Go:Audio a ridiculous and undeserved degree of generosity and respect, the lead single from Made-Up Stories
, the title-track, is okay. The chorus’ pulsating guitars give it a breathless feel, and it’s very easy to dance to, which lyrics about a girl on a dancefloor just enhance to an entirely new poetic level. The verse is obsolete but the chorus is catchy enough to earn it mainstream radio play and with pop-punk that kind of hook always matters. Unfortunately one of Go:Audio’s favourite and best-executed tricks is repeating a passable chorus roughly 237 times just in case you missed it, which is exactly what they do here. That said, the melody is good, the rhythm section carries it well enough, and the instrumentation hits its peak on the album’s first track. All of this just leaves one thing: the vocals.
Go:Audio’s vocalist James Matthews doesn’t do anything else; he’s not credited with a guitar or a keyboard or anything except the vibration of his vocal cords, and on these grounds alone you would expect him to be somewhat brilliant. In vocal terms, brilliance often means polarised opinions, like Conor Oberst or Thom Yorke. So does Matthews’ voice hold the key to a record full of sing-along moments? Of course not. Matthews sounds like every other pop-punk vocalist in the world, only a billion times less interesting and with a range that makes Dylan look like Mariah Carey. On So Quiet You Were
, arguably the album’s best written song (which says very little), he mimics Tom DeLonge’s infamous I Miss You accent, spitting his ‘s’s all over the place and generally sounding abysmal; elsewhere he’s just pointless (Forget About It
), robotic (Brake! Brake!
) or annoying (Take The Floor
). Matthews must have some serious blackmail material stashed away somewhere, because there is literally no other fathomable reason why you would let somebody this unremarkable near a microphone.
Maybe he’s present for its lyrical prowess? Well...no. Pop-punk is renowned for generic lyrics which break no new ground and border on teen angst, but Made-Up Stories is a tour de force in 13-year-old poetry. Forced rhymes? 'Brake, brake, brake, but a moment just too late, for God's sake, this life I just can't waste.' Awkward alliteration? Check. Immaturity? By the bucketload. Generic and uncomfortable ideas, a lack of emotion and a real failure to connect on any level other than superficially plague every word from start to finish. And the worst thing is that poetry is precisely the right word, since this album is lyrically so dense and simultaneously ineffective that it sometimes gets almost impossible to listen to, in amongst all the filler lines and terribly awkward vocal rhythms. And because, on top of all this, Matthews’ most dynamic vocal style is a kind of loud talking, everything that comes out of his mouth is irritating, normally clichéd and constantly disappointing.
When the vocals and lyrics are horrible in such an unprecedented way it’s probably to be expected that, whether consciously or not, the rest of the band try embarrassingly hard to pull the record out of whatever mediocrity it’s sinking into. Unfortunately for them, despite their efforts, it’s never enough, and it actually usually makes things an awful lot worse. The aforementioned electronics side of Go:Audio’s sound, provided by Josh Wilkinson, is meant to be a nuance – a quirky feature which contributes to the band’s x-factor and, presumably, also fits with the rest of the music. Save Me Now
’s opening synth line sounds like the start of Orson’s Tryin To Help, but somehow manages to mutilate it and it just ends up sounding like some 80s cheesy pop music, and not the good kind, if there is one. The rest of Save Me Now is predictable but actually evokes a bit of an urge to tap your feet; the song sounds like a cleverly constructed Busted comeback. That's until the chorus which utilises a synth line that mimics the vocal melody and sounds, well, terrible. The bridge uses auto-tune or some sort of vocoder which has absolutely no place. I could go on.
Where Go:Audio try slowing it down, it generally ends up sounding like the worse side of Simple Plan’s back catalogue, and perhaps even more cringeworthy. One of the tracks on the leaked 2008 version of this record, He's Changed, is genuinely worth checking out just for giggles. Other attempts at being a bit more emotional and soft-hearted end similarly, namely the melodramatic Take The Floor
and track 6, I’m With You (Don’t Tell Me)
. I’m With You is – wait for it – actually a fairly decent attempt at the standard piano-ballad format. The hook is intoxicating and isn’t ruined by any stupid electronics. Matthews’ vocals are even delivered with some conviction. And the transition from verse to chorus, where the bass kicks in slightly, is borderline clever. Unfortunately, they manage to spoil the enjoyment anyway. Guess how. Guess how. Guess how. Guess how. Guess how. Guess how.
Another more down-tempo offering closes the album, and maybe it's this track which best represents the errors that plague everything that comes before it; it emerges from a crowd of nominees to take the title of most confusing song. Made Up Stories' last-ditch attempt at salvation begins well enough (as do a lot of these songs) amidst an acoustic guitar, some strange ambience and an unintrusive synth. But you know how the closing song is the thing you go away from the album remembering? Normally it offers a climax or a come-down or something cleverly unpredictable? Well, Forget About It
doesn't bother with all that; it builds, and the instrumentation becomes dense about a minute in; it maintains balance until the 2-minute mark at which we're treated to that arpeggiated synth thing you hear in tacky 90s dance music, which sounds ridiculous but kind of adds to the spectacle. But then with no explosion, no breathless last chorus, and absolutely no closure, the tension drops and the music trickles out. It's not the heart-stopping anti-climax of Frightened Rabbit's Poke, or the slow impression left by Anberlin's Fin; it's just rushed and a little bit pointless, kind of like the rest of Made Up Stories.
Can Go:Audio bounce back from this? The sad truth is that they probably won’t need to. Like I mentioned in the introduction to this review, this record will likely be eaten up by the mainstream and will ship in millions-ish due to its sort-of passable and easily digestable mediocre first half. But this is not worth your time if you love music. Pop-punk fans will find nothing here they can’t find better (yes, better) in Simple Plan and Good Charlotte, and everybody else will be bored to tears anyway. It’s a melting pot of random, poorly selected and dreadfully executed ideas which never, ever fit and are saved very rarely by competent guitar and drum work which still never manage to make anything except I’m With You above average. The first half of Made-Up Stories is mediocre and mind-numbing, and the latter part is excruciating to listen to. If you loosely apply the meanings of the words ‘enigmatic’ and ‘special’ then I suppose the definition I afforded debut albums earlier on still applies to Go:Audio’s first full-length: it makes absolutely no sense and probably eats glue in its spare time.