After the satisfying “One For the Kids,” the first full-length album with current vocalist, Ryan Key, but before the smash hit and pop-punk classic “Ocean Avenue,” Yellowcard
released their second EP, “The Underdog EP.” This wonderful quintet of songs is a complete joy to listen to, and I find myself back here quite often.
This EP has a great opener, with “Underdog,” beginning with a small guitar riff and background drums. A few strums on the violin and you get launched into fast beats and powerful chords, and then into slow verses with a wonderful story about a football player that doesn’t fit into the team. He’s “beat up after class” “picked last for the big boy games,” and after training and getting better he says he “won’t be the last one anymore.” Not only can this be about the underdog on the team coming through and surpassing everyone's expectation, but it can be compared to relationships, both romantic and platonic ones. It’s an inspiring song, and also has one hell of a solo from Mr. Ben Harper.
The upbeat notes on display only come back for one more song, track three “Finish Line,” a amazing tune about Yellowcard’s friendship with, ironically, the band “The Starting Line;” it has quite some sad lyrics, but with uplifting guitar riffs and nice violin work from Sean Mackin, this is another track that adds to how great this EP in. A nice basic chorus with nice basic verses adds up to a basic song, but that's not a bad thing at all. An amazing solo follows the bridge and heightens this song onto an entire new level, as Ryan Key repeats “I’m not leaving you” with only the slightest bit of autotune, which is subtle, but a nice touch.
Something this EP really nails is the backing vocals. There’s rarely a moment where you say to yourself “I wish there was more here” because they’ve already done it. This is shown in “Underdog” and “Rocket,” and every song in between; major props for that.
In between and after these two nice, uplifting, and inspiring tracks, are "Avondale" and "Powder", two songs with a much different message. "Avondale" is a song about backstabbing, a friend turning against you and talking negatively about you without your knowledge. The violin and chords in the intro introduce the emotional volume that will be on display, but the real hit of this song is the bridge, with a twist on the chorus, replacing lyrics with “I stuck a knife into his back, inventiveness is what I lack,” along gliding on a building drums and guitar. “Powder” is the only song on this album that I will say that the violin has a negative effect. The introduction and verses for the violin parts seem forced in, as if to remind people they have one. Sean comes back to redeem himself with amazing work on the chorus. One of the amazing things about this song is the positive message behind it, about the downsides of using drugs to the point of abuse and addiction. There’s many small touches that make this song better than expected, like the way Ryan Key sings “with chemicals to blind your eyes,” or the riffs that enter halfway through the second verse. The bridge then builds up and chugs along to a nice closing, and once the last chorus is sung, mixing the instruments of the verses with the lyrics of the other choruses along with amazing backing vocals from Sean Mackin, everything calms down, with only power muted chords, light drums and timid vocals to carry them out.
The final track on this EP is a hard hitter: “Rocket.” This starts with a wonderful guitar riff, and, much to my surprise, a piano, as this was early in their career. Light bass and drums accompany soaring leads on the guitar. The verses feel fragile, with Ryan Key singing from his heart, with lyrics such as “silent words from my heart to you, my empty filled, filled up with you.” A loud and crashing chorus comes in after a brief second verse, and throws this song into a much louder, more confident sound. Heavy drums, heavy bass, heavy chords, wonderful transition. As Ryan Key screams out “I slip another smile in your pocket, my heart is racing to you like a rocket,” violin comes in and sits right on the top of the growing backing vocals, with some quite familiar to those who have heard Ocean Avenue (“The two of us we dream like one, our energies could light the sun, the two of us take breath like one, the two of us, the two of us”). After this, they die down into just drums and bass (and some awfully misplaced bongos), but they fade out, and put a cap on quite an amazing EP.
The Underdog EP is a wonderful transition from One For The Kids and fan-favorite Ocean Avenue. They used this as an experimental album to see how they would sound with darker tones, and they sound incredible. This is a significantly overlooked bunch of songs and I highly recommend it to any Yellowcard fans that have had this go under their radar.