Punk Cred vs. Pop Sense
Call it what you will: punkpop, pop punk, melodic punk, this subgenre has given us an all-out flood of bouncy, happy bands playing bouncy, happy songs. Straddling the line between punk and emo, bands like Blink 182, New Found Glory, and current kings of the hill Sum 41 sing harmless “chick songs” with pleasantly catchy melodies and a healthy dose of self-deprecating humor. The trouble is, Green Day and Blink 182 are growing older, their act getting a little old (30-year-olds acting like 12-year-old boys gets tiring very fast), and big teenage day camps like the Vans Warped Tour offer a day’s worth of bands who sound exactly the same. Separating the crap (Good Charlotte) from the good stuff (Sum 41) gets increasingly difficult.
So where do the Riddlin’ Kids fit into all this? Well, this group of ex-pizza delivery guys can be pretty darn good when they want to. The Austin, Texas quartet (singer/guitarist Clint Baker, guitarist Dustin Stroud, bassist Mark Johnson, and drummer Dave Keel) are onto something here, with their regular-guy image, their terrific album artwork (by Austin cartoonist Lance Myers) and especially their songs, which are loaded some undeniable pop rock hooks. Sounding like a mix of Social Distortion, Jimmy Eat World, and Ash, the Riddlin’ Kids come painfully close to succeeding, before finally petering out after half an hour.
It starts off as a really fun ride, though. Starting off with the long-forgotten series of “bleeps” that began cassettes back in the ‘80s (a wonderful twist on the retro “needle dropping” cliché that’s been used far too many times on CDs), album opener “Crazy” is high-adrenaline powerpop, with Baker’s vocals sounding like Mike Ness’s little brother. “Here We Go Again” is an exasperated ode to a high-maintenance girlfriend (“No, I can’t go to the mall / That really sucks / You know how much I love to wait while you change / Again and again and again and again and again”), while the hyperactive “Blind” combines great vocal harmonies with a chorus the kiddies will love (“Leave that bitch tonight!”). The hit-in-waiting “I Feel Fine”, like everything else, is stuff we’ve all heard before (right down to the rather idiotic lyrics). But it’s well done, and stays in your head the minute you hear it (the cute video, with animation by cover artist Myers, is part of the album’s CD-ROM bonus material). And “Follow Through”, amazingly, combines earnest lyrics, heavy guitars, and raw, yet melodic vocals well enough to be a passable Husker Du imitation.
Produced by Paul Ebersold (who has worked with Three Doors Down in the past), the album sounds great, sounding straightforward and slick, but not overly so. However, Ebersold can’t save the day totally, as the rest of Hurry Up and Wait starts to get repetitive as the band slip a little too comfortably into the punkpop mold, which, while not being completely off-putting, starts to wear on the listener. The band redeems themselves a bit on “Wasted Away”, a nice little character sketch in the same vein as Social Distortion, where Baker’s raspy voice sings about a misfit girl as the rest of the band delivers a rough-edged, meat-and-potatoes performance. Unfortunately, it goes all to hell on the closing track, a cover of R.E.M.‘s “It’s the End of the World As We Know It”. It’s the only track that wasn’t produced by Ebersold, and the result is a sonic disaster, sounding wooden and clunky. It’s a great song to cover, but the Riddlin’ Kids sound out of their league, and it’s a real shame the album has to end on such a disappointing note.
The Riddlin’ Kids’ aw-shucks earnestness is admirable, and they show they’re capable of writing some knockout rock songs, but they should try to get out of the punk shackles. They could embrace the heavier, Social Distortion sound, or better yet, go for all-out powerpop like Ash’s best work, something very few American guitar bands have the guts to do. If they continue to stick to the same old punk formula, they’re just going to be quickly overtaken by bands younger than them who have a couple more catchy songs than they do. Hearing the band’s best moments on Hurry Up and Wait makes you want to hope they rise out of the punk quagmire for good.