Review Summary: More of the same.
After 2005’s commercial smash and new emo-pop standard Move Along, a record that gave birth to three ubiquitous top 20 singles and a legion of teenage-girl fans, Oklahoma’s most cheerful rockers had nowhere to go but down. Enlisting Good Charlotte and Smash Mouth producer Eric Valentine and releasing the album more than three years after Move Along, an eternity in the Billboard world, singer/bassist Tyson Ritter and Co. brandish their inner arena-rockers on When The World Comes Down. It’s a record that never fails to retread the same hit factory path of Move Along, one that proves that the soul of a Rejects record is simple, sugary pop songs and choruses that refuse to stop their ceaseless racket in your head.
First single “Gives You Hell” harkens back to the pop goodness of earlier AAR hits such as “Swing, Swing” and “Dirty Little Secret,” with a deceptively straightforward hook and a universal lyrical message; here, Ritter is spewing venom at the universal ex of all “that’s-what-you-get-for-leaving-me” pop songs, something even those who aren’t banking millions as frontman for a multi-platinum rock group can relate to.
Alas, opening song “I Wanna” has enough cringe-inducing lyrics to fill a Mariah Carey song (“I wanna touch you / you wanna touch me too”) and Ritter’s delivery is bored, at best. It feels as though AAR is tired with this same old song-and-dance routine, and “Fallin’ Apart” attempts to spice things up with a well-placed string-and-piano rhythm and just the kind of chorus we expect from the boys: loud and arena-ready, background voices wailing in harmony included.
For the most part, however, producer Valentine keeps to the same old tricks in his bag of pop-punk chemistry: guitars chime and fuzz out in all the right places, vocals are polished to a nary-a-crack shine, and the band packs enough animalistic, instinctively catchy hooks in the songs to snare any hormonal teenager. Hear Ritter proclaim his love at the end of the world (“Mona Lisa (When The World Comes Down)”), hear Ritter mourn a broken heart (“Breakin’”), hear folk duo the Pierces duet with Ritter about (what else?) youthful love on “Another Heart Calls.” If nothing else, AAR is intensely focused on their key demographic, and while the lyrics are nothing but your standard yearning fluff, they certainly know how to drive a theme home.
For all its radio-ready glory and single-ready marketability, there are a few hopeful signs of growth on When The World Comes Down. The aforementioned “Another Heart Calls” is actually quite a piece of mood work, beginning with a haunting “Enter Sandman”-esque guitar lick and a pounding tom-tom rhythm that calls to mind “Move Along”’s epic beat before erupting into an appropriately cathartic electrified chorus replete with grandly arching strings. Bombastic? Certainly, but the vocal interplay between Ritter and the Pierces is an album highlight. Bonus track “Sunshine,” meanwhile, is all plucked-stringed violins and glockenspiels framing a buzzing guitar and a straightforward lyric that throws metaphors and subtlety to the wind: it’s a song that works on a purely musical level, and is a refreshing change of pace from the previous guitar-oriented pop hits.
When The World Comes Down could very well have been simply titled Move Along Part II, or something along those lines, as its penchant for right-to-the-heart power-pop, unadulterated, sickly sweet sentiment, and flawless production fit right in line with that album’s Warped Tour mindset. It’s an accessible collection of poppy tales of love won and love lost, a combination of primitive hooks and the kind of lyrics that draw longing teenagers like moths to a flame. Unfortunately, it’s not much else, and while the All-American Rejects are well on their way to establishing themselves as the torchbearers of today’s radio-listening emo youth, they show only a little tendency to grow beyond the limitations of their chosen genre.