It’s a risky move using the word “kids” in a band name. As a matter of denotation, hell, use whatever words you want, but the connotation of “kids” is almost completely negative to the rock community at large (read: those over the age of 17): it signifies teen mall punk antics, and besides, who respects kids anyways? (As a former kid myself, I feel qualified to make such a bold statement.) That said, in the face of such daunting logic, Austin, TX, quartet the Riddlin’ Kids sound all grown up on their sophomore disc, Stop the World, graduating from (to these ears) the emo-punk of their debut, 2002’s Hurry Up and Wait to full-fledged rock band. (See also this year’s effort from the Get-Up Kids, Guilt Show—an album that helped that juvenile-named act move out of the emo ghetto and on the map for discerning, post-pubescent listeners.)
The first sign that a pop-punk band is maturing is that they write more than just straightforward songs about girls. On “Apology”, lead singer Clint Baker’s narrator thanks his girlfriend for sticking by him while he battles a brain tumor (inspired by a friend going through such a scenario). It’s a genuinely moving song and it showcases Baker’s lyrical depth and willingness to look outside of himself for song material. Meanwhile, Dustin Stroud’s clean, shiny guitar lines help make the song upbeat; one gets the feeling Baker’s narrator and girlfriend will overcome this challenge. Meanwhile, “Ship Jumper” is the band’s “fuck you” to their management, tour manager and crew who all bailed on them in the middle of their last tour. (The circumstances surrounding the split are hazy—or at least not discussed in the press packet—but “We’ll be here after the smoke clears,” promises Black). Dave Keel’s angry drums propel the song, revealing the band’s secret hardcore jones, and with Stroud’s hook-happy guitar, the song is both vitriolic and catchy.
The Riddlin’ Kids do sing about girls, but to their credit, their girl-songs are clever. “Promise You Anything” is the best of a strong bunch, as Baker’s sweet-talking lothario does his best to get in a girl’s pants using lines like “I promise you, girl, that I won’t tell anyone I know” while the band bounces along in power-pop mode. Also noteworthy are the nervy “Talk of the Town”, where the band disses gossip (“There’s better things to talk about”) and “I Hate You” (“I hate you / It’s safe to say that you hate me too… / In the end you wanna stay with me all night / And that’s alright with me” pretty much sums it up); and the choppy-guitar fueled “Turn Around”, in which Baker’s narrator forgets his girlfriend’s birthday, calls her by the wrong name, and forgets to pick her up leaving her to walk the five miles home. Props to Baker for penning sharp character studies of unrepentant cads. It’s a compliment to say I could see OK Go performing these songs.
The Riddlin’ Kids should, at the risk of reading too much into their album title, keep their world spinning: they’ve straightened out their management’s abandonment issues, written a dozen sharp songs, and turned them into a fun, rocking album. Lazy concluding sentence: There are no growing pains for these Kids.