Review Summary: Far from perfect, but it paved the way for what would end up being one of the more popular pop-punk bands of the last ten years.
One for the Kids is Ocean Avenue’s forgotten older brother. After One for the Kids was released in 2001, Yellowcard was able to perfect their craft and drop the album’s success-spoiled predecessor on the market two years later. From there, the band skyrocketed in popularity and never looked back. It is a pity to think how many fans will never get to hear where all the magic started.
The more the mainstream media hailed Ocean Avenue as a critically acclaimed pop-punk album, the further One for the Kids was pushed into distant memory. What most people forget, however, is that this album actually made a splash of its own. It took Yellowcard from the virtually unknown and raised them into a select category of promising young artists. For the pop-punk genre, their sound was refreshing and actually brought some new elements to the table – such as the incorporation of the violin as a major instrument. This was also the first Yellowcard album featuring vocalist Ryan Key, who would go on to become a key component in the band’s songwriting and their future success. Before him, the band released two albums – Midget Tossing and Where We Stand – under vocalist Ben Dobson. These albums were underwhelming in the sales department and the band wasn’t making any headway either. That’s where Key and his debut album, One for the Kids, played a vital role in the band’s very quick climb to stardom.
One for the Kids is, in a sense, a rough draft of Ocean Avenue. Many of the musical concepts and ideas that worked so well on that record started here; the only difference is that we are also left with the portions that dropped the ball. Songs such as “Drifting” and “Rock Star Land” are very raw, both technically and in production. Other than the moderately catchy chorus in “Drifting”, they brought very little to the table in terms of Yellowcard’s progression as a band. The same can be said for “A.W.O.L”, which while featuring some nice cuts from Sean Mackin’s violin, is generally a scattered mess. Tracks like these are few and far between though, seeing as the majority of the album shows us a Yellowcard that is moving towards cleaner production, catchier choruses, and genuine lyrics. Naturally, this is the most evident when listening to the slower acoustic ballads. “Something of Value” serenades us with a constant light strumming of the acoustic guitar layered underneath Ryan’s gentle vocals. “Cigarette” is nearly identical in structure, but is the least memorable of the three ballads on One for the Kids. The most telling sign of progress comes in the form of “Rough Draft”, a hidden track at the end of the album. Not only is this song instrumentally superior to the aforementioned ballads, but it also features some of Yellowcard’s most heartfelt lyrics out of their entire discography with lines such as, “I’m breathing in your skin tonight, quiet is my loudest cry, wouldn’t want to wake the eyes that make me melt inside” and “If it’s healthier to let you be, may a sickness come and set me free, kill me while I still believe that you were meant for me.” This track is the perfect way to close out an emotionally charged album, and it also serves as a bridge to the lyrical topics of Ocean Avenue.
The band’s progression is also quite apparent in some of their more upbeat, punk-influenced songs. The first track, “Struck” is a prime example with some of the catchiest guitar riffs and drum fills on the entire album. Ryan’s vocals are also very energetic and he shows the ability to alter his range very quickly, along the lines of what we later see on “Life of a Salesman” on Ocean Avenue. “Sureshot” has similar qualities, but is very much a violin-oriented song (especially in the beginning) and can also be compared to a future Yellowcard song, “Believe”. Clearly, Yellowcard was beginning to realize their identity on One for the Kids. Perhaps their most shining fast-pace moment comes in the form of “Big Apple Heartbreak”, which embodies all of the qualities of Yellowcard’s older and newer styles. At some points, it is distorted and raw, and then at other points it shifts tempo between calm acoustic guitar chords and punk-rock choruses. As a whole, it is some of the finest work on One for the Kids and it truly exemplifies where Yellowcard was instrumentally, vocally, and lyrically at the time.
When all is said and done, we are left with what can best be described as a blueprint for Yellowcard’s successful career. Not everything that they drew up on this album was outstanding material, as it is in fact quite lackluster and unpolished at times. However, more often than not Yellowcard ends up hitting their stride and creating an identity that would carry over into their next three albums. Songs such as “Rough Draft” and “Big Apple Heartbreak” set the standard for both their slower and faster paced songs, while Ryan Key really honed in on love/relationships as the primary topic of his lyrics. With Yellowcard now on an indefinite hiatus, the long-term influence of this album on the band’s career has never been more apparent. It is far from perfect, but it certainly paved the way for what would end up being one of the more popular pop-punk bands of the last ten years.