Plain White T’s: All That We Needed

[17 April 2005]

By Jason MacNeil

Chi-town’s Plain White T’s made great inroads with their last album, their debut album to be exact. Touring with Jimmy Eat World and other power / pop / punk / radio-friendly acts would only help grow their fan base, but like most groups, the dreaded sophomore effort had to be dealt with at some point. The new album, with a new lineup after some changes, is 40 minutes of power-pop that will have all the kiddies enjoying it, along with a few kiddies at heart - at least for the opening six songs!

Opening with the title track, the mid-tempo pace picks up with guitars weaving and a powerful, high-tempo chorus that ends with heads bobbing. Thankfully it’s not that glossy or slick, making for a pretty good starter and coming off like a long lost sixth cousin of Tom Petty’s “American Girl”. Lead singer Tom Higgenson tears it up vocally and goes just a hair over the edge, forcing the issue. “Two wrongs don’t make it right, but I don’t care tonight”, the lyric goes before fading out by repeating the title.

“Revenge” is punchier and has a definite edge, along the lines of Jimmy Eat World if produced by Sloan. Guitarists Dave Tirio and Tim Lopez make this track soar with an almost primal, garage-rock sound that builds off itself. And the rhythm section of drummer De’Mar Hamilton and Mike Retondo is airtight. Ditto for the slight, sullen “Take Me Away”, but again they follow the infectious blueprint to a “T”, bringing to mind “The Middle” in some respects, as if taught by Westerberg and company. It’s bound to cause some arthritic knees if listened to at an office desk or cubicle—damn fine ear candy. “My Only One” tames the album somewhat with a different, jerky, quirky beat that doesn’t quite live up to expectations. By the second lead-in to the chorus they get back to fourth gear, albeit not at the expense of the melody.

The low point might be the art / angular rocker “Sad Story”, which is a track The Futureheads might have nailed perfectly, but Plain White T’s just aren’t up to snuff here. It’s the first track that seems glossy and pre-packaged. “Breakdown” isn’t too sappy but also doesn’t have the oomph of the earlier tunes, recalling an enthusiastic Gin Blossoms in their heyday. But “What More Do You Want?” seems to be the perfect title to this track. Judging by the ordinary approach, the answer would be a hell of a lot—run-of-the-mill riffs, a touch of retro keyboards and a groove that is something a bar band might feel good about. Fortunately they get back to their strengths on the pleasing, Beatles-on-speed “Lazy Day Afternoons”, with the syrupy harmonies and lovely melodic chorus. Short and to the point, it redeems the previous songs and hopefully guides them back down the right path.

And it does swimmingly! The terrific “Anything” reeks of alt / indie rock with the bass line being the key. “I see the letters that were written for me” he sings before going down the obligatory broken heart, stay-in-my-room frame of mind. The consistency of the tune is the highlight, rarely gearing up or down, but keeping a lovely, toe-tapping even-keel. “Sing My Best” starts off like a futuristic waltz before hitting all the right notes. It lacks that je ne sais quoi, although the chorus is cavity-inducing in parts. Perhaps the sleeper pick is “Faster”, which is the equivalent of a diet power-pop song, not showing the intensity of a hit single but rather content to stay in the groove, and being so ridiculously polished that the song might squeak if your finger ran over the compact disc.

The Plain White T’s have made a fairly good second album. Is it Jimmy Eat World? Well, no, but not too far off. Is it Hoobastank? Sheesh, give them some credit, would you?

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/plainwhitets-allthat/