Review Summary: A Change of Sound is like a change of clothes
Music is like clothes. The music fits you for a while, and then you grow out of it. Then every once in a while, you dig up the past and view where you are, and where you were. Like clothes, the music you listen to at any point in your life like a time capsule, showing and reminding of the person you once were. In a sense, music is the very embodiment of nostalgia. With music you listened to when you were younger, it will always have an impact; and through the years, will still connect with you. Even though the music may not be expertly crafted, or the lyrics poetic genius, it will always be music that you once loved. With a band like The All-American Rejects, they are very much like those old childhood clothes. Like clothes, they helped shape a musical and stylistic identity, and memories are attached to most of their songs. When AAR announced a new record in spring of 2012, my attention was caught, but I lost interest until I picked up the CD at a local record store three months after its release out of curiosity.
When I heard the first track, "Someday's Gone", I was skeptical. I felt they had sold out, betraying old fans like me, shedding their pop-punk image in favor for a more alternative and rock n' roll-esque musical identity. A couple dozen spins and a year and half later, I have come to realize how important this shift in direction was. The music feels revitalized, more honest, and unlike the last record, like the band sounds like they were actually having fun producing it. The tracks I had at first been skeptical of have become some of the standouts on the album. Songs like the confident swagger of "Beekeeper's Daughter", or the alt rock stomp of "Walk Over Me", are energetic, addicting, and a total reverse from the band's older material. All traces of pop-punk are gone! In its place are twelve tracks of 80's-esque dance ballads like the title track, and 70's-eque rock anthems like the three I previously mentioned. It's surprising how well the band takes to this new direction. They feel entirely at home rocking out like no other time before. For the first time since the debut album, the band truly feels like they're making the music they want to make.
Nick's and Mike's guitars take the forefront instrumentally, with loud riffing and confident solos in "Walk Over Me" and "Beekeeper's Daughter". Other times they take an attitude akin to that of The Edge in "Kids in The Street" and "Bleed into your mind". Tyson's bass is there to provide backing, but despite the simplicity, he and drummer Chris keep the rhythm section tight and solid. Even in the louder and more raucous tracks, Chris's beats are focused, but never simple, propelling the music forward successfully and energetically. Synthesizer lines bleed through almost every song on the record, rearing its head to be the lead instrumental in tracks like "Fast & Slow" and most blatantly in the title track. The synth parts back the music up, and are fantastic, cementing the hooks in place and filling out the lower end rather nicely.
Tyson's signature whine and lyrics are the star of the show, and clearly show how he has progressed from the bands early years. In full control of his range, he spits out angry vocals in "Someday's Gone", longing ones in "I for You" and sneering ones in "Beekeeper's daughter". His lyrics are the best that they've ever been. While the range of topics haven't expanded much, he's gotten much better at expressing himself. The biting lines in the first track sting with Ritter's snarl of "You cut me off at the knees, I fall like a dead man out of an airplane". He brings the nostalgia train full throttle in the titular track "Kids in the street" with a croon of "We were dreams, we were American graffiti scenes. With no war, no peace, no hope, no means just us."
Unfortunately, not all of the tracks hit the nail on the head as soundly as some of the others. The annoying synth buzz in "Out the door" was a poor choice, and the chorus, intending to soar, barely gets off the ground. The synth is a consistent problem in several of the tracks, dragging down "Bleed into your mind" and making parts of "Gonzo" feel like an input overload on the speakers. The ballad "Heartbeat Slowing Down", while a decent song, feels like a "The Wind Blows" part two mixed with a bad 80's slow dance. Ironically, the synth is the best part of this song, making it mildly enjoyable.
When a band has been around as long as the All American Rejects, people will eventually lose interest in the same tired formula, and will want to see them changing things up, to continue being somewhat unique. Not only do they change things up, they create a new, surprising formula here. The lack of immediacy helps the music not only be slow growing, but boost the potential to age extremely well. While some of the tracks fall flat, the majority of them are successful in their scope and direction. The band's older material may be old clothes and old memories, but this new LP is like a new wardrobe, a new style, a new image. In time, this album too will fall by the wayside and become itself a nostalgia trip. But for now, let the kids in the street bleed into your mind and take you away.