Review Summary: Being teenagers forever can only take a band so far.
Taking a page from Sputnikmusic staff writer Adam Downer’s recent Justin Timberlake review, I’d like to take a moment to let out a sigh of displeasure at certain gushings of praise devoted to A Rocket To The Moon’s new album, Wild & Free
. To wit: a certain blog, “34th Street,” praised the album as “a more grown-up, country style.” My issue with this statement is not the “country” part: this album is clearly a straight country-pop release. The problem herein, rather, is the whole bit about “grown-up.” Though it’s probably fair to say the Massachusetts-based pop rock outfit has matured a bit since their debut release, Your Best Idea
, which was an unfortunate venture into the realm of god-awful autotune and cheesy-as-hell synths, it’s just blatantly untrue that Wild & Free
shows any sort of “growing up” compared to On Your Side
, the group’s previous full-length outing. While the latter album was defined by its cutesy, aw-shucks pop rock sensibilities (see the perfect teeny-bopper lyrics to the chorus of “Like We Used To” to see what I mean), the band’s newest offering is essentially that same concept with some slide guitars and quasi-Southern twang.
It’s a little tough, then, to see where exactly that “growing up” happened here. Vocalist Nick Santino is still going on about saccharine-sweet teenage-ish relationships, the boy-band chorus harmonies are still prevalent, and the songs are still just about as absolutely safe as they come. The only major difference between the band’s latest two albums is that while On Your Side
only tentatively utilizes standard country-pop tropes, Wild & Free
is a full-on embracing of the style the band had only flirted with before. As I said earlier, this album is basically a straight-up country-pop-meets-cute-Massachusetts-boys release, 13 songs worth of everything tried-and-true about both genres. From its beginning in kick-driven, kinda-sorta-like-Memphis-guitar-based sweetie “Going Out” to its end in piano-ballad slow-dance-worthy “Lost And Found,” the album screams its true identity at every turn - extremely safe country-tinged pop rock, with nothing inventive anywhere to be found.
Sure, it’s catchy as hell, and in true A Rocket To The Moon fashion the album’s main draw is how damn easy
the whole thing is. It slides in one ear and right out the other like cream soda, super sweet and not all that nutritious. To be quite honest, though, this was probably to be expected for an album that would feel right at home on the local country station. Wild & Free
is laboratory-manufactured for easy consumption, without a shred of individuality present. And it’s almost catchy and well-produced enough to succeed, as no doubt most of the tunes here will turn into major earworms sooner or later for quite a few listeners. Unfortunately, the syrupy nature of the album can only take it so far. Sooner or later, the ultra-safe “you’re a little bit country, yeah, and I play rock and roll” (You’re My Song) songs will naturally start to grate obnoxiously. Rather than grow up, A Rocket To The Moon stick to what’s worked in the past, and unfortunately that strategy doesn’t work very well beyond a certain point that any listener is sure to pass within the first few listens.