Plain White T's: Stop

Chris Baynes

Plain White T's re-released debut is a throwback not just to its original release in 2002, but to the pop-punk that briefly ruled the mainstream rock roost a few years prior.

Plain White T's


Label: Fearless
US Release Date: 2007-11-06
UK Release Date: 2007-09-03

You can almost picture the scene: inspired by the unprecedented success of chart-bothering ballad-lite "Hey There Delilah", teens flock to the record store for a larger portion of inoffensive, but admittedly catchy, acoustic yearnings. Glancing over the latest offerings from Damien Rice and Ben Harper, their eyes light upon Stop, the re-released debut album from Delilah's erstwhile admirers Plain White T's. Disc bought, it's home for a debut play, and eyebrows are raised. There's no gentile confessionals, no nostalgic strummathons, nary an acoustic guitar in sight; just, alas, another pop-punk -- sorry, um, "power pop" -- band with a hatful of girl-related vendettas even more tired, clichéd riffs, and sunny vocal harmonies. Checked and checked again -- no, it's not a misplaced Jimmy Eat World record -- the disc is reconciled with its box and Harper finds his reprieve.

And so it ends for the consumer, at least, and for the passive listener. For the music critic, however, there remain repeated spins of the disc; minute upon futile minute of hoping in vain for a radical change in direction; of half-hearted scouring for something redeeming -- something to justify this re-release. But in the end, it is a cynical one, an undeserved and unnecessary second helping of a mediocre album, contrived to capitalise on the current success of its creators. Even Stop's initial purchasers don't escape these marketing techniques, mind: lumped on the end of this version are three unreleased demos. Here, one might be inclined to suggest they are unreleased for a reason, but in truth their standard varies little from the cuts that were deemed good enough for Stop's first release.

And yes, their chosen genre puts them at an immediate disadvantage in appealing to anyone who has already transcended school age and exposed themselves to a world of cultural multiplicity; a world not just of drink, drugs, and sex, but of politics, art, and social diversity. But while music has largely moved on from its brief pandering for pop-punk, this is not a singular restriction. Love them or loathe them, there was logic behind the likes of Blink-182 and Sum 41's rise to prominence amid an overpopulated scene. Their songs were catchy, their lyrics, if puerile, were witty enough, and their musical ideas, though hardly radical, were sufficiently individualised to breed distinction. Plain White T's -- at least circa Stop -- have none of these qualities. Instead, they are banal and indistinct. Theirs is music that you've heard before but can't ascertain where. This should come as no surprise, given that a change of direction was needed to the band to make their breakthrough.

Perhaps what is most detrimental to Stop is vocalist Tom Higgenson's choice of subject matter. Primarily an account of Higgenson's first serious relationship, the album is consequently ridden with the teenage angst and emotions that accompany events of apparent importance during youth, before maturity brings realisation of the ultimate insignificance of first girlfriends; of teenage social lives and all their trappings. And this is fine. This is part of growing up. It's just there's no need to re-release the documentation of this growing up, several years on, especially when it has the effect it does here. Stop feels tired and trite as a result -- not just as a result of its musical derivation, but because of its lyrical subject matter also. Gone is the bouncing energy which pop-punk thrived and relied on. When Plain White T's do energetic, it is with tinged with whiny lamentations that suggest the direction their music would take. And lyrically, Stop is clunkily clichéd at best, and sickening at worst, as on "A Lonely September" ("I didn't mean to fall in love, but I did/And you didn't mean to love me back, but I know you did").

That said, Stop's better moments are in fact its more contemplative. Despite its lyrical shortcomings, "A Lonely September" suggests that Plain White T's do Dashboard Confessional-style emo better than they do pop-punk, while "Shine" provides further evidence that they would be better off sticking to the mellower side of things. But there are not enough of these moments to bring reprieve. Instead, there are a plethora of tracks like "What If", a cringeworthy three minutes of power-chord led self-examination ("What if nobody likes me/What if I don't succeed") and the title-track's identikit diatribe against some spoilt rich girl rich girl who Higgenson still clearly wants to impress. All in all, it makes it very difficult to avoid making some terrible quip about the album's title.

As a general rule, I try to find at least something positive, however modest, to say about each disc I put my pen to. Stop, though, has me stumped. For fans of pop-punk, there are far better albums out there; for fans of present-day Plain White T's, Stop will struggle to win any airtime on your stereo ahead of their more recent material. But then again, perhaps, there is a silver lining. All those who were unable to comprehend "Hey There Delilah"'s runaway success: one listen to Stop and you'll forever be grateful for the change in direction.

Stop? I pressed it long ago. (sorry).





Paul Weller - "Earth Beat" (Singles Going Steady)

Paul Weller's singular modes as a soul man, guitar hero, and techno devotee converge into a blissful jam about hope for the earth on "Earth Beat".


On Point and Click Adventure Games with Creator Joel Staaf Hästö

Point and click adventure games, says Kathy Rain and Whispers of a Machine creator Joel Staaf Hästö, hit a "sweet spot" between puzzles that exercise logical thinking and stories that stimulate emotions.


The 50 Best Post-Punk Albums Ever: Part 1, Gang of Four to the Birthday Party

If we must #quarantine, at least give us some post-punk. This week we are revisiting the best post-punk albums of all-time and we kick things off with Gang of Four, Public Image Ltd., Throbbing Gristle, and more.


Alison Chesley Toils in Human and Musical Connectivity on Helen Money's 'Atomic'

Chicago-based cellist, Alison Chesley (a.k.a. Helen Money) creates an utterly riveting listen from beginning to end on Atomic.


That Kid's 'Crush' Is a Glittering Crossroads for E-Boy Music

That Kid's Crush stands out for its immediacy as a collection of light-hearted party music, but the project struggles with facelessness.


Percival Everett's ​​​'Telephone​​​' Offers a Timely Lesson

Telephone provides a case study of a family dynamic shaken by illness, what can be controlled, and what must be accepted.


Dream Pop's Ellis Wants to be 'Born Again'

Ellis' unhappiness serves as armor to protect her from despair on Born Again. It's better to be dejected than psychotic.


Counterbalance No. 10: 'Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols'

The Spirit of ’77 abounds as Sex Pistols round out the Top Ten on the Big List. Counterbalance take a cheap holiday in other people’s misery. Right. Now.


'Thor: Ragnorak' Destroys and Discards the Thor Mythos

Taika Waititi's Thor: Ragnarok takes a refreshingly iconoclastic approach to Thor, throwing out the old, bringing in the new, and packaging the story in a colourful, gorgeously trashy aesthetic that perfectly captures the spirit of the comics.


Alps 2 and Harry No Release Eclectic Single "Madness at Toni's Chip Shop in Wishaw" (premiere)

Alps 2 and Harry NoSong's "Madness at Toni's Chip Shop in Wishaw" is a dizzying mix of mangled 2-step rhythms and woozy tranquil electronics.


Kathleen Grace and Larry Goldings Team for Wonderfully Sparse "Where Or When" (premiere)

Kathleen Grace and Larry Goldings' "Where Or When" is a wonderfully understated performance that walks the line between pop and jazz.


Run the Jewels - "Ooh LA LA" (Singles Going Steady)

Run the Jewels' "Ooh LA LA" may hit with old-school hip-hop swagger, but it also frustratingly affirms misogynistic bro-culture.


New Translation of Balzac's 'Lost Illusions' Captivates

More than just a tale of one man's fall, Balzac's Lost Illusions charts how literature becomes another commodity in a system that demands backroom deals, moral compromise, and connections.


Protomartyr - "Processed by the Boys" (Singles Going Steady)

Protomartyr's "Processed By the Boys" is a gripping spin on reality as we know it, and here, the revolution is being televised.


Go-Go's Bassist Kathy Valentine Is on the "Write" Track After a Rock-Hard Life

The '80s were a wild and crazy time also filled with troubles, heartbreak and disappointment for Go-Go's bass player-guitarist Kathy Valentine, who covers many of those moments in her intriguing dual project that she discusses in this freewheeling interview.


New Brain Trajectory: An Interview With Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree

Two guitarists, Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree make an album largely absent of guitar playing and enter into a bold new phase of their careers. "We want to take this wherever we can and be free of genre restraints," says Lee Ranaldo.


'Trans Power' Is a Celebration of Radical Power and Beauty

Juno Roche's Trans Power discusses trans identity not as a passageway between one of two linear destinations, but as a destination of its own.


Yves Tumor Soars With 'Heaven to a Tortured Mind'

On Heaven to a Tortured Mind, Yves Tumor relishes his shift to microphone caressing rock star. Here he steps out of his sonic chrysalis, dons some shiny black wings and soars.


Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras' tētēma Don't Hit the Mark on 'Necroscape'

tētēma's Necroscape has some highlights and some interesting ambiance, but ultimately it's a catalog of misses for Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras.


M. Ward Offers Comforting Escapism on 'Migration Stories'

Although M. Ward didn't plan the songs on Migration Stories for this pandemic, they're still capable of acting as a balm in these dark hours.

Collapse Expand Reviews
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.