Let’s talk about what happens when bands “take a break” in between albums. As cruel as it may seem, fans like to think that their favorite groups operate on a reliable schedule of putting out an album every other year, and then tour in between. It can become jarring and disappointing when bands take an extended period off, whether it’s an “indefinite hiatus” or just “taking a break”, fans can lose touch with said band and forget them all together when they come back.
Some bands have thrived from spending years away from the spotlight. Weezer came back stronger than ever (commercially) after a half-decade recoiling and waiting for goodwill to build up for Pinkerton. My Chemical Romance took time to craft a completely different sonic experience from the morbid Black Parade with Danger Days and were no worse for wear, thanks to a bit of help from Glee.
That said, for every band that came back stronger, there’s always one that returned to yawns and apathy. AFI waited four years after releasing the biggest record of their career to bring out the highly stylized Crash Love and people couldn’t have cared less anymore than they did. There are those that feel Blink-182 waited too long after they reformed to come back with Neighborhoods. Green Day, Incubus, Red Hot Chili Peppers, U2, Linkin Park — for major label rock bands, time off can turn into an early grave. The pop landscape moves faster than ever nowadays, and one of the reasons that rock has sort of fallen behind is because getting four or five dudes to agree on what’s next is never easier than a solo artist (usually singers and rappers) just heading into the studio.
It appears that the All-American Rejects, a band that spent the better part of the ’00s straddling the line between Blink-182-esque pop-punk and the Maroon 5/John Mayer side of the pop spectrum, have come out worse, with their first album since the Bush administration (okay, so one month before Obama came into the office) Kids in the Street landing like a bit of a wet fart. In a year that has seen a bit of a comeback from rock (Foo Fighters, the Black Keys, Fun., Foster the People), the Rejects’ return features too many reheated elements of their older sound, and often disastrous deviations when they stray from it.
What the album most immediately brings to mind is another notable recent emo flop, Pretty. Odd. by Panic! at the Disco. It tries to inject the Rejects’ fairly standard sound with more retro elements. Here, instead of borrowing liberally from the ’60s like Panic did, they’ve taken from late-’70s Queen and mid-’80s new wave. It simply doesn’t come together, through either weak songwriting, lack of commitment to a consistent sound, or both.
The record starts out well enough, with two fairly dynamite Rejects standards, “Someday’s Gone” and “Beekeeper’s Daughter”. Both play around with song structure while sticking to the band’s past successes sonically, and the former particularly succeeds in making you believe that this will be another fairly enjoyable, if uncreative, All-American Rejects record. That’s when things start to head off the rails.
The third song, “Fast & Slow”, serves as a prelude to what pervades the rest of the record: an underwhelming chorus, unnecessary synths and singer Tyson Ritter moving far beyond his typical “snarky jerk” into more lecherous territory. The man is completely unlikable throughout Kids in the Street, which wouldn’t be a problem — entire careers have been built off of being a dick, and frankly, Ritter has largely been known to be one in the past — but when the pop hooks just aren’t there, you simply want to smack some sense into him.
The experimental songs here particularly fall flat. “Heartbeat Slowing Down” sounds like a bad ripoff of Muse’s more synthy moments, devolving into OneRepublic territory by the time the overblown chorus comes around, while the Gary Glitter-esque “Walk Over Me” deals with Ritter’s creepy mommy issues. This record will have you needing a shower after half a listen. The band comes close to reclaiming past glories on a couple of tracks (“Out the Door”, “Kids in the Street”) but always seemingly gets in it’s own way somewhere.
If you can get to the end of the album, you’ll find a bit of hope, with the band making earnest stabs at Queen-esque rock opera. The tempo-changing “Affection” is much better than the middling, five-minute “Gonzo”. Either way, it’s all too late. The All-American Rejects waited nearly four years to come back with an album that wasn’t different enough from their past, and doesn’t come close to achieving any sort of breakthrough when they try anything new.