After disappointing sales of Diffuser's debut album, Injury Loves Melody, Hollywood Records have obviously insisted that the band alter its alternative, melodic sound to an all-out bubblegum punk assault designed to end up in the CD collections of kids who own albums by the likes of Sum 41, Blink 182, and Good Charlotte.
Such wisdom ultimately backfires, as even though Making the Grade is slicker and more mainstream than its predecessor, it's so contrived that it's clear Diffuser have copied someone else's homework when they already have a legitimate argument to base their own answer on.
So, in an increasingly desperate search for sales, Diffuser have for the most part, sacrificed the alternative vibe that made their debut album appealing for a clutch of sound-alike pop-punk tunes complete with risqué lyrics specifically designed to appeal to pre-pubescent teens, such as these from "I Wonder": "I wonder if you give him better blow jobs than the ones I got from you".
Despite the undeniably sunny melodies of punchy opener "New High", it's all a little deflating. Granted, on tracks like "She's All Mine" and "Avoid The Friction" there's a hint of the band's original flavour, but producer Mark Trombino, who helped define Blink 182's ultra-successful sound, covers the songs in so much gooey gloss that the saccharine is almost too much to bear at times and it totally strips the band of their identity and individuality.
What we are left with are tunes such as "Get It On", an anthemic and raucous song that is as insubstantial and indistinguishable as anything from the likes of New Found Glory; "Only in the Movies", another song that depressingly follows the trademark punk-pop formula to the letter; and "Breakaway", an effort seemingly written in the same length of time as it takes to say, "Hey! Let's mimic Sugar Ray and write an acoustic-based song shamelessly aimed at getting radio play!" Only the sheer attitude of "Here's to You", which drips with the seething anger and resentment of vocalist Thomas Costanza, escapes such criticism. It may sound like a Sum 41 cast-off, but at least it possesses a sincerity sadly lacking elsewhere.
Every song may well be bursting with pent-up energy and melody but the whole experience of listening to Making the Grade is generally depressing. Maybe if the band had tried such a sell-out approach two years ago on their debut, we could have avoided the disappointment we're faced with here.
The puzzling aspect of the whole affair is that the bands Diffuser are trying so desperately hard to emulate on Making the Grade have arguably already had their day. Blink 182 and Sum 41 caught the mood of a demographic of adolescents a couple of years ago but things have moved on since then. Although Diffuser's new sound achieves an A grade for blatant plagiarism, it seems the pop-punk bands may have already graduated.