Review Summary: Just when you thought the American Idiot/Black Parade craze was over..."The name of the album is 'The Wonders of the Younger.' We were in Vegas last year around Valentine's Day and saw the Cirque du Soleil show 'O.' The show had clowns, pirates and a bunch of crazy stuff and I walked out thinking 'I've got a great idea for our next album.'”
As a devoted fan of pretentious rock operas, I have listened to my fair share of concept albums that simply don’t work
. Truthfully, they have been around for decades. In the 70’s there was The Who’s Tommy
, which collapsed under the weight of its own unnecessary frills. In the 80’s, Styx launched the futuristic Kilroy Was Here
, complete with costumes and Broadway-style productions that depicted a protagonist named Jonathan Chance who was pitted against the evils of Dr. Righteous, and his plans for unlimited censorship and the obliteration of rock n’ roll as we know it. More recently, the 2000’s offered up the politically themed American Idiot
and the tragic cancer chronicles of The Black Parade
. One could argue that all of these albums were equally atrocious; but truth be told, there are plenty of us who are attracted to albums that seem larger than life. They are showy and usually overproduced…but that is what appeals to our epic-loving side. The Plain White T’s don’t seem like the kind of band that would attempt such a gimmick, but then again, after 2008’s Big Bad World
, they are in desperate need of resuscitation.
Wonders of the Younger
is essentially The Plain White T’s bid for an over-the-top concept album, along the lines of what we saw in the mid-2000’s from bands like Green Day, My Chemical Romance, and Sum 41. There is a loose circus theme that pops its head out occasionally, surrounded by glossy arrangements and catchy melodies. While the “theme” of the album is never really made concrete, the overall vibe that it gives off is that of a lively, surreal dream. Not unlike a circus, the album feeds off of the band’s newfound sense of creativity, and the focused energy that they inject into every song. “Irrational Anthem” is a clear highlight, kicking off the record with a childhood-reminiscent line, “I remember wishing I was older, always something big around the corner…but as the years go by I’m growing younger, open eyes and head still filled with wonder.” A barrage of drums quickly send the song bursting into the album’s most memorable chorus, effectively setting an over-the-top tone for the rest of Wonders of the Younger
For the most part, Wonders of the Younger
keeps its fun, upbeat nature intact. There is just one problem: the foundation of the music is incredibly tacky. The songs are, for all intents and purposes, still Plain White T’s songs…and that alone might tell you all you need to know about the quality of the musicianship. There is nothing complex about their music, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. However, the slow songs all tend to follow identical formulas, while the fast paced songs follow suit, and the mid-tempo songs…well, you get the idea. There is just nothing on Wonders of the Younger
indicative of actual instrumental skill, while the voice of Tom Higgenson remains a matter of personal preference subject to one’s taste. The musical components of this album are extremely simplistic, and they do not step outside the carefully crafted boundaries of basic mainstream pop.
Thus, all of the Plain White T’s ambition on this record feels misplaced. The creativity and willingness to experiment are both here; two things that were severely lacking on most of their prior releases. Ironically, on an album whose concept is supposed to evoke a sensation of stepping outside your boundaries, it is the limits on the band’s skill level that keep them restrained. Wonders of the Younger
is like fertile soil, eager to sprout a bustling garden of beautiful flowers. But unfortunately, that garden is located in a place where it never rains, depriving those flowers of the nurturing they need to survive. Thus, potential gems like “Last Breath” and “Map of the World” never live up to their potential – and it is painful to see the great ideas on some of these songs that don’t pan out due to a general lack of artistic touch. “Rhythm of Love” may be the most noticeable exception to this rule, as Higgenson sings in a delightfully folksy falsetto overtop of high-spirited acoustic picking and a danceable beat. The rest of the time, however, it seems that the Plain White T’s have instead opted to continue their sleek, streamlined feel that won’t yield very much outside of some catchy singles.
Wonders of the Younger
is cheesy, contrived, and way over the heads of every single band member – and not to mention at least five years late. It is an album that the Plain White T’s should not
be able to pull off, and despite their admirable creative vision, they fall flat just as you would expect them to. At the same time, however, there is something uncharacteristically charming about this album. Maybe it is the band’s willingness to venture into slightly newer territory, knowing full well that the results will probably never match the expectations in their own minds. I, for one, admire the Plain White T’s moxie. At least this isn’t a nauseatingly sugar-coated collection of “Hey There Delilah” rehashes (like 2008’s Big Bad World
). The T’s take a giant step outside of their comfort zone. The results are very, very
far from perfect, but Wonders of the Younger
shows a band that is finally moving forward and leaving the Delilah days behind them.