Review Summary: "I'm just out to find the better part of me....."
What happened to soulful, meaningful pop music? Nowadays you have artists like Ariana Grande or Austin Mahone creating uptempo, generic pop material that seems to be sample-heavy and deliver massive acclaim on the Top 40. The bombardment of EDM-infused pop anthems is insane, with Demi Lovato's "Neon Lights" to "Sirens" from the X-Factor UK star Cher Lloyd that are only meant for radio stations to blast constantly 2-3 hours an hour everyday. Aside from former Nick stars forming together to be pop duo MKTO, there really hasn't been an artist who's been able to deliver pop material that has meaning and soul infused into the lyrics, and the instrumentation in the last decade and a half of the new millennium. Fortunately, there was one musical project who was able to bring out the soul and inner beauty in pop music, and that was Five For Fighting. The frontman known as Los Angeles native John Ondrasik delivered a fantastic debut with "Message For Albert" back in 1997, which earned him a deal with Columbia 3 years later. In September of 2000, Ordanisk released his second album and major label debut "America Town" which wasn't really popular outside of one particular single, "Superman (It's Not Easy)". It's unfortunate, as this sophomore album is certainly a pop gem that should be treasured with its soulful and graceful instrumentation along with heartfelt vocals by Ondrasik.
"America Town" mainly focuses on piano-based rock, with a bunch of other instruments like guitar and drums brought in like what Elton John did in his material. Elton's material is classic and certainly won't be beat, but Ondrasik does give him a run for his money with unbelievably heartfelt music that is certain to hit people's soft-spot. The hit "Superman (It's Not Easy)" is a prime example of that, with a beautiful mellow piano being played while John sings about being superman and the desire to make it. His vocals isn't Elton John-caliber, but Ondrasik is able to bring heartfelt and tear-worthy vocals that blend in with the piano-led arrangement perfectly. Call it the prequel to such Superman-influenced tracks like Daughtry's "Waiting For Superman". "Love Song" follows the same formula, with more thoughtful, emotional lyrics which is about coping with the dreadful divorce of one's parents. John's raw emotion in his vocals in the album is pretty prevalent, which helps keep listeners happy while the relaxing, empowering piano-led instrumentation rolls on. Other standout tracks include the self-titled track "America Town", a track about searching for that leader or hero to look up to when they're few out there, and "Michael Jordan" which is a tribute to the NBA legend. It fits with Ordanisk actually, considering that when he doesn't songwrite or sing he writes for Sports Illustrated. There is so much depth on the 12-track on the album, not just touching on one particular subject but on a bunch of them that actually have relevance and meaning unlike the love/romance bombardment of pop tracks.
"America Town" never ceases to disappoint, delivering more of the light-hearted and inspiring soft-pop rock material that is prominent throughout the record. Another standout track with "Easy Tonight" touches on the subject of a man or woman on the verge of leaving the planet. Each track is certain to carry you from hopelessness to emotionally-inspired and motivated. The only track that doesn't meet the standard in this album is "Boat Parade", which kills the relaxing and soothing themes of the album. It's obviously out of place with the entire record, but it's only a minor issue. Aside from that, Five For Fighting's "America Town" reminds the music lover of the beauty and splender of soulful and heartfelt pop music. Lyrically-speaking, John Ondrasik shines bright with his expressive and emotional stories that vary from divorce to finding that inspirational figure to look up to. The blend of beautifully-played piano with guitar and drums create a powerful and moving essence to each track, which is highlighted with the hit "Superman (It's Not Easy)". The sophomore release earned a platinum certification from the RIAA, but somehow it has been forgotten by the pop community. It's unfortunate, as "America Town" brings out the best in pop music both lyrically and musically and considering the state of pop nowadays with it's love-crazed EDM-pop anthems, it's definitely an underrated pop classic and a must-buy.