Review Summary: Blunders of the Younger...
The Plain White T’s are quite possibly the most inoffensive band in the world, a sentiment which has gained them a ridiculously large fan base as well as an impressively large group of detractors. However, while people sing their praises or tag them as another “faux-emo” novelty, The Plain White T’s just keep playing their damned acoustic guitars and singing their stereotypical love songs, seemingly oblivious to the contention amongst their listeners.. It’s helped them in the past, as in the summer of 2008 it was nigh impossible to escape the shockingly simplistic, yet regretfully catchy, “Hey There Delilah.” Yet since their debut, the band really hasn’t altered much in the sense of, well, anything. Musically and lyrically the band has hit a plateau, with each release consisting of the same light and breezy alt-rock/pop-punk tracks, all of which consist of the same themes of love, being yourself, and other things teenagers enjoy hearing about.
Fortunately, the band’s newest effort, Wonders of the Younger
mixes things up, even if just a minuscule amount. The Plain White T’s are still The Plain White T’s on this album, but they are a little more consistent, and have seemingly become more focused on improving their songwriting. More so than on previous releases, Wonders of the Younger
features some, albeit few, truly interesting songs
, something that has sorely escaped every album in their catalog thus far. While the album won’t win any prizes for originality, a good number of the tracks are genuinely fun, catchy, and worthy of praise. This was the band’s intention, as they had hoped to step outside their boundaries and produce something fresh, but maintain their overall sound (the idea arising after viewing the Cirque du Soleil production, O
Thankfully, this doesn’t sound like the unmitigated disaster it could have been, and rightfully, should have been. There is a more “whimsical” vibe to the album for sure, which is bolstered by the theme of staying “young” and embracing the child -like “wonder” in us all. There is however, a half-assed circus concept underlying the album, but that was only made apparent through separate interviews and the uninspired cover art. It becomes apparent in one or two selections, but they feel like odd occurrences rather than pieces of a conceptual whole.
While the dreadful pseudo-concept does not do much for Wonders of the Younger
, The Plain White T‘s appeared to have actually put a bit of effort into the music itself, something that may come as a shock to those following the band. There’s more groove throughout, with the bassist and drummer playing a much bigger role, often times overpowering the lackluster guitar work which is a definite plus. The soft airy ballads seem fuller, and more concise, as on several occasions there is more going on than just Tom Higgenson singing with his guitar. The band appears to be having some fun on Wonders of the Younger
, and it really does show. There is more variety , with a tasteful amount of strings and horns being featured in a few selection. The swapping of singing duties is another improvement, as guitarist Tim Lopez is actually a rather decent vocalist, taking the spotlight off of Higgenson, who‘s weak and lackluster vocals have always been adequate enough to simply get by.
With a stronger band than ever, Wonders of the Younger
features some of the most diverse and focused selections of the Plain White T’s career. The opener, “Irrational Anthem”, displays more creativity and intrigue than I ever thought possible with the Plain White T’s. It’s shockingly fun and upbeat, and it displays a band comfortable with their new found inspiration. “Killer” is another track that successfully steps outside the band’s comfort zone. It’s schmaltzy and meandering, sounding more akin to a song sang by a forlorn lover in a smoky bar , rather than a tune by the Plain White T’s. Songs such as these are what make Wonders of the Younger
work, and keep the entire album from being a rehash of old material.
However, even the revamped side of Plain White T’s cannot save Wonders of the Younger
from the other side of Plain White T’s that we have become accustomed to. They still use the acoustic guitar with the exuberance and skill of a sixteen year old boy who just discovered, well, “Hey There Delilah,” and sing with the lyrical proficiency of a typical misunderstood fat girl
posting on “Live Journal.” There just really isn’t anything here that hasn’t been done before, and better, but dozens of other bands. The tiresome “verse, chorus” formula gives way to the even more tiresome pop-rock ballad, of which the Plain White T’s apparently ***ing love. This unfortunately sees the band re-treading old ground, as many selections seem to fall into the standard the band has set for themselves. While not downright terrible, these tracks detract from everything the band does right on the album. For every catchy and fun “Irrational Anthem,” there is a vapid and blasé “Rhythm of Love.” And that’s really what Wonders of the Younger
boils down to, some jovial tunes believably
describing the joys of love and youthful effervescence, intermingled with half-assed songs that fall into a tired formula, doing just enough to get by.
Glaring faults aside, Wonders of the Younger
is without a doubt the strongest album in the Plain White T‘s discography. They’re comfortable and confident , and who am I to bust their balls for feeling so? The album is fairly decent, and honestly there isn’t an expressly awful track to be found. But sadly, the formula here is mixed up just enough to warrant some excitement, but regretfully they do not go far enough. Instead, we are left with a mixed bag, and one that shows the dichotomy of a band growing, while at the same time being content with their place in the music scene.