Review Summary: "Hey Farva, what's the name of that restaurant you like with all the goofy shit on the walls and the mozzarella sticks?"
If you happened to catch any of the recent Facebook updates and unusual amount of press surrounding Punchline as of late (which you most likely have not), you may have noticed some interesting developments brewing regarding the band's future. In the wake of the 2011 Christmas holiday, bassist Chris Fafalio posted a hand-written letter to his personal Facebook account, informing his fans of his intentions to leave the band if their upcoming EP did not somehow manage to make it to the #1 overall spot on the iTunes charts. Shortly thereafter, FOX TV aired a new episode of the show 'Mobbed,' in which forever-alone Punchline frontman Steve Soboslai (somehow) successfully wooed a girl he met at a show back in 2006 via cheesy movie scene recreations, one massive flashmob, and the ever-daunting presence of about four dozen cameramen. Oh, and did I mention that they felt so bold as to use songs from the upcoming EP as part of the episode's soundtrack?
Now, this may all come off as some big and hairy publicity stunt, but shockingly enough, the EP began a drastic climb up the charts within just hours. In the time that has come to pass since then, So Nice to Meet You
, the most recent release from Punchline, the little Pittsburgh pop-punk band that could, scaled its way upward toward that coveted number one spot, with it most recently surmounting the Rock chart and making it into the overall's top ten. This brings me to an important point about Punchline, about their music, and concerning your role as a listener in general. In listening to such a band, you need to be able to forgive a lot
of little things: mainly egoistic shenanigans and/or lesser-witnessed ploys for attention, but oftentimes just the overall corniness with which these musically inclined rust-belt-hooligans choose to operate. There's really no denying that the whole ordeal was sort of cute, as the world (read: a couple hundred fans) paid close witness as what is more or less a local pop-punk band from Pittsburgh slowly ascended the iTunes charts, but was there more to it than that? Could the most recent release from a band that's been around for almost a decade and a half measure up to the charm and instant allure of the product of their less-aged days?
In the interest of arriving at a point here, the short answer is, "yes… well, just about." So Nice to Meet You
is exactly the sort of release that one might expect from a group that's been milling about the pop-punk scene for as long as Punchline has; especially one whose music has been steadily progressing away from the 'punk' and slithering into 'pop' territory. See, Punchline's career has followed a tricky path, with 2004 seeing the release of Action
, a near-perfect pop-punk record with enough angst-laden hooks to rival a similar, albeit three years prior, debut release from a bunch of Long Islanders collectively calling themselves Brand New. Since then, the band has struggled to make much more of a name for themselves aside from "hometown heroes," with subsequent releases following in the same vein as their debut, though none of which were quite able to effectually rehash its no-holds-barred, adolescent-driven pop-punk feel. With each year that passed, as the band-members began to approach their 30's, Punchline slipped more and more towards a family-friendly pop-rock sound, the latest installment of which manifests itself shamelessly on So Nice to Meet You
On the EP, Punchline still manage to find different ways to write and rewrite old songs, with tracks that bask in the same youthful exuberance of past releases' finest moments. 'Everything I Wanted' recounts all the joy and excitement of new love, doing so with unabashed catchiness and abundant affability. Yet, such a track presents itself as tad bit difficult to accept when taking into account just how long ago these "kids" graduated from high school and college. And sure, a certain fuzziness creeps into every crack and chorus of the track, perhaps lending it some hint of maturity or at least edginess, but lyrics about sharing Dr. Pepper flavored chopstick yank it right back down into sophomore year. Or take the closing track, a cover of Cheap Trick's I Want You To Want Me
, a song that's been covered enough times for two lifetimes as is. Again, though their rendering is upbeat and undeniably hard to ignore, its way of hanging onto pop-rock sensibilities is, to say the least, easily overlooked.
Good news lies in the fact that Soboslai's voice is as strong as ever, ascending and descending through a wide range of pitches and volumes, and consistently aided by the record's nearly flawless production and completely on-point instrumentation. On opener 'Universe', Punchline assert that a song with outer-space metaphors alone isn't satisfactory, opting to go all-in on the cosmic theme, calling to mind a young Angels and Airwaves
without flat-out copying the formula. Each track on the EP manages to carry a distinct and even fresh sound when compared to the others, a borderline remarkable feat considering how much music these guys have under their belts by now.
However, in the gradual but obvious shift away from their punk rock roots, a big part of Punchline's past allure is lost. The bittersweet angst and singalongability (forgive me) of such past tracks like 'Heart Transplant' or 'Don't Try This At Home' seems all but lost on So Nice to Meet You
, with tracks that pan out pretty well in the studio but most likely lose their charm in a live setting. Gone are the days of basement shows and a dozen hometown fans to scream along with, replaced by the attempts to appeal to a larger but more impersonal audience. When it comes down to looking at their career thus far in full, is Punchline's most recent release just another step in a direction they'll continue to pursue years into the future? Or will these loyal pop-punk enthusiasts soon find themselves nonexistent following all the recent press shenanigans and external pressures weighing on the band? As is almost always the case, only time will tell.