Review Summary: Grown Ups' last release begs the question of why the band would bother releasing a collection of songs that lacks the very characteristics that made the band appealing in the first place.
Some critics harped on “More Songs”, Grown Ups 2010 debut LP, for being too polished after 2009’s Songs. Well I’ve got bad news for the naysayers: not only is Hand Holder polished, it simply lacks the quality song writing on that release. Not to say this 2011 EP, the last from the band, is bad. No, it’s still serviceable and still manages to elicit a smile here or there. But it’s safe to say the band was smart to call it quits when they did.
More Songs was such a success because it was so passionate. Each song brimmed with passion and energy, sculpted to perfection around endless hooks and mesmerizing guitar noodling. The songs may have sounded slightly similar, taking multiple listens to discern the hidden nooks in each song, but that was part of its charm. The album’s production was perfectly polished. The band’s sound and playing was perfectly imperfect. It was, in a word, fun. Songs like “Six More Weeks of Winter” and “Open Sesame” are simply transcendent, still wowing this reviewer every time they are put on. On Hand Holder, this sense of fun and vigor is gone. I don’t know why (heh), but suffice it to say the band suffered a decline. Maybe they ran out of ideas or maybe they weren’t getting along. Whatever it was, they left us with an inessential EP.
“Whigwam” is a perfect example of the problems found therein. It starts out with a booming cascade of drums and starts out at a decent pace, with a promising if not slight guitar riff. And then the song doesn’t evolve at all, or even experience a change of energy. The song is mildly entertaining but the listener (if they listened to "More Songs", and they should have) is left bored and disappointed. “Wildlife” is an improvement if only that it is over quicker and reminds the listener of a less inventive and lively version of “Weed Science”. To its credit “Couch King” is the best song on this LP, actually featuring some screeching feedback before diving into some fun guitar play and a chorus that’s delivered with some actual urgency. “Well Water” is another mid paced rocker with a decent riff. It even shifts course a couple times, providing those gang shouted vocals featured so well on "More Songs". Sadly the ideas presented are less than thrilling, and to revisit a theme the song is mildly amusing but leaves the listener wanting more.
Some listeners may say that judging a song by it’s pace and urgency is no way to review. These people are missing a crucial point: Grown Ups’ selling point was it’s breakneck, hook packed pace and it’s liveliness. Without it Grown Ups lacks that crucial magnetism that attracted so many ardent listeners. Their lack of ideas and perhaps even enthusiasm begs the question of why this record needed to be put out. In the end it’s not bad but certainly nothing better than okay. Instead of dwelling on this sad conclusion, go put on “More Songs” and remember the band at their finest.