[13 March 2003]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
The All-American Rejects’ self-titled major label debut is in actuality a re-release of their indie label (Doghouse) pressing from October of 2002. The scant five month span between both releases conclusively proves one of two theories: 1) Major labels are obsessively preoccupied with finding and mass marketing what they believe to be “the next big thing”, or 2) The All-American Rejects are in fact “the next big thing” and destined for greatness. In the case of the Rejects, it seems that the former is true, and Dreamworks is aggressively trying to capitalize on the moment.
Make no mistake, The All-American Rejects do offer something attractive to a segment of the music buying public. Their combination of syrupy vocals and polished studio sound appeals to the sentimentalists among us, and has caused many in the media to lavish them with praise, hailing them as artistic geniuses in the making. Not bad for a couple of college guys and a drum machine from the musically desolate state of Oklahoma. While they have successfully exploited modern technology and the potential of the programmable keyboard, at this point the All-American Rejects are really nothing much more than an experiment in pop music lameness.
Graduating from the School of Lyrical Sensitivity, the All-American Rejects attempt to follow in the footsteps of the Gin Blossoms, Goo Goo Dolls, and Weezer before them. In some respects they succeed by covering similar ground, although the ceaseless incorporation of earnest yearnings into their songs renders them something closer to Ben Kweller with his amps turned up. The problem arises when the angst level of every song is revealed to be extraordinarily lightweight. Harkening back to the true tortured souls of pop music’s last decade, the All-American Rejects fail to approach the pained ramblings of Kurt Cobain, Eddie Vedder, and Billy Corgan. Many of the songs of these ‘90s wunderkinder conveyed genuine heartache, without sounding forced or contrived. In addition to being immensely talented as songwriters, they were amply supported by excellent bands. Traveling further back into history, one can even cite the Who’s Quadrophenia as the ultimate example of convoluted teen emotion. Truthfully, the All-American Rejects have neither the skill of word nor note of Nirvana, Pearl Jam, the Smashing Pumpkins, or Pete Townshend for that matter, thus comparisons may be somewhat unfair. Nonetheless, recording an album of feelings makes the band accountable to a higher musical standard.
The All-American Rejects’ new disc consists of eleven tracks, each searching for the perfect balance of guitar hooks, electronic doodling, and emotional release. While alternating between drum and keyboard intros, the majority of songs end up sounding much the same musically and thematically. The opening four tracks (“My Paper Heart”, “Your Star”, “Swing, Swing”, and “Time Stands Still”) ooze with similar amounts of boy loses girl anguish. “One More Sad Song” breaks from the pack momentarily with a rather decent guitar introduction, but quickly returns to the album’s modus operandi. “Why Worry” follows suit in unremarkable, and increasingly tiresome fashion. The only moments of real distinction occur on the second half of the album when they appropriate bits of tunefulness from other groups. “Don’t Leave Me” maintains a distinctive Blink 182 flair to it, while “Too Far Gone” incorporates a pretentious orchestration reminiscent of the Pumpkins’ “Tonight, Tonight”. “Drive Away” is a shameless rip off of Third Eye Blind’s “Semi Charmed Life” sans the “do-do-dos”, and “Happy Endings” bears an uncanny opening likeness to the Ramones’ “Howling at the Moon.” Track 11, optimistically titled “The Last Song,” offers listeners the album’s coup de grace, five minutes of soul searching drama ringed by a panorama of slick guitar and keyboard work. Listening closely to the sheer desperation of the lyrics, one can imagine the spontaneous weeping that this song will undoubtedly elicit among the All-American Rejects’ most loyal followers.
Interestingly, this inaugural effort is appealing to some for the same reason it is inconsequential to others. Fans will swoon over the album’s apparent introspective thoughtfulness and catchy melodies, while realists will dismiss it as one long run on sentence wrought by repetition and an authentic lack of substance. Deferring to the collective opinion of the naysayers, do the All-American Rejects have any hope of remaining viable long enough to merit a sophomore recording? Possibly. While they do have some skills as an articulate musical/song writing entity, they would be well served to dispense with the incessant whining and feigned sensitivity, and begin crafting songs with substantially more diversity and bite to them. Additionally, expanding the narrowness of their sound would also be potentially beneficial. That said, the band deserves the chance to mature. If they can build upon their talents and broaden their creative scope, perhaps they will experience a successful future. If not, they may find that their next album of songs will not be about broken hearts, but rather the pain of residing in the “Where Are They Now?” file.