Guilty pleasures almost universally share one feature: if you expose yourself to them for too long in a stretch, you begin to feel your brain cells dying. Make no mistake, I love my guilty pleasures, chief among them some pretty shameful pop punk. But more than a couple tracks in a row, and I have to switch it off.
The best Useless I.D. could possibly be, if you’re over the age of fifteen, is a guilty pleasure. The question is, how much pleasure we can get for our guilt? Among the hundreds of overproduced, formulaic pop-punk (or alt rock, as we old fogies called it in the 90’s) albums, does Symptoms make the cut?
The album actually starts well enough, with a sharp riff and catchy vocal melody. The radio-ready engineering is a little hard to take, but that comes with the turf. “Before It Kills” is also a tolerable track, fast-paced with good hooks and one of the album’s most careful arrangements. Clocking in at two minutes, it doesn’t overstay its welcome. Starting at the following track, though, Symptoms begins to slide. “Normal With You” is a generic, whiny song, presumably directed to an ex. The melodies, though unoriginal, still satisfy, and the song boasts a well-written bridge and some cool guitar action.
Unfortunately, that’s where the band should have stopped. The first three tracks are as formulaic as anything geared towards mainstream radio, cliched tunes and deplorable, teenage lyrics, but they’re enjoyable. Any enjoyment is gone by “Erratic,” with a melody that overshoots “catchy” by about a mile and lands solidly in “obnoxious.” The band’s typical formula is already wearing thing.
‘”Manic Depression” is a low point, highlighting the album’s running theme, i.e. juvenile co-opting of mental health jargon. As for the music, my notes for this review just say “not tolerable.” Then comes “Sleeping With Knives,” featuring such lyrical gems as “outside your window, I’ve always been / I’m a vampire waiting to be let in / when I know there’s a silver bullet set a side.”
“Symptoms” offers some reprieve. It’s as formulaic as the rest, but the band pulls it off better here, at least in terms of the sappy but guiltily pleasurable melody. The rich arrangement, studded with a twinkling guitar, does its job.
“OCD,” in contrast, sounds unfinished. The scant melody and scant arrangement don’t add up to a song’s worth Singer Yotam Ben Horin proclaims profoundly, “Your obsessive-compulsive disorder creeps me out / I don’t want it,” about seven hundred times in under three minutes. Then, “New Misery” continues the record’s poetic bent: “I’m sick of feeling like a battery / the way you charge me up / the way you empty me…You’re f#%$ing someone else…this is the new misery.”
After that, the band has nowhere to go but up, but they don’t get far. The closing tracks have are darker and have more interesting arrangements, but they don’t offer enough to merit spending eight minutes of your life listening to them.
In the end, though, I owe the band a thanks. I was contemplating how enjoyable a root canal seemed in comparison to listening to some of these tracks, and that reminded me to make a long overdue dentist appointment. The money I’m not spending on this record should cover my copay.