The Starting Line: With Hopes of Starting Over . . .

The Starting Line
With Hopes of Starting Over . . .
We the People

Perhaps I should preface this review by thanking those of you who take the time to read the pieces here and then write in with your comments. It’s always nice to hear what the readers think. I’d especially like to thank those who enjoy these pop punk bands as of late. I got some wonderful feedback for my review of the last Sloppy Meateaters album. Apparently a fan wasn’t thrilled that I didn’t like Blink 182 (whom I compared the band to) too much and got upset that I thought the Meateaters’ lead vocalist couldn’t sing too well when he reached for the high notes. “Just wait till they get signed by a major label and then you’ll see!” I was told. All right, I shall wait for that moment. Then I’ll be able to hear about how the band is a complete sell out from the same camp for doing so. Ah, the irony.

But I always thought that a true punk wouldn’t give a shit at all what any critic would think. Therein lies the rub. So many of these bands are not punk at all. There’s nothing wrong with that, but let’s face it once and for all. Just because your drummer can’t do anything but a bash-bash-bash rhythm as fast as he can and your guitarist can play just as fast doesn’t make one punk. Besides, when did punk start sounding all pretty? All these nice harmonies and whatnot. You might as well just call it Hi-NRG rock more than punk.

I wouldn’t call The Starting Line punk, either. Some listeners have noted that the band sounds like nothing more than a New Found Glory clone. So what does that tell us? Basically the same old thing that we’ve come to expect from these bands: there’s not a ton of originality or room for improvement. Honestly, it’s kind of a shame to see so many bands in this genre get bogged down in the same old tired sounds that are done better by another band who was there first. You might as well also mention Lagwagon here as well, but again, they were there first.

Yet this kind of release is undeniably geared towards a certain age group, that being the teens to early twenties gap that feels a connection with the kinds of things going on in bands like these. And that’s cool. I enjoy some of these groups as well, albeit when they bother themselves to learn a few more chords and come up with other things to sing about than girls. And that is not to say these guys aren’t talented. They’re fine. But they do have a long way to go.

The Starting Line features Tom Gryskiewicz on drums, Ken Vasoli on vocals and bass, and Matt Watts and Mike Golla on guitar. As always, these sorts of releases sound really great when you put the first track on (in this case, it’s “Leaving”). Gryskiewicz proves himself to be a sharp drummer at the start, with his tactful fills and the twin guitar power of Watts and Golla sound none too shabby, either. Vasoli sings well, stays in tune throughout, but then again sounds like plenty of other lead singers in bands like these, and so the line between something new and something old starts to blur.

There are only five songs on this disc, and by the time the band reaches the second one, “Saddest Girl Story”, all of their cards have been played. Here we go once again with the bash-bash beats, the same kind of frenzied guitar soloing that’s supposed to sound melodic but merely sounds claustrophobic, and the vocal harmonies that sound good, but would sound even better in a song that wasn’t striving to be “punk”. Or pop punk. Then of course, there are the lyrics about girls. “So it’s safe to say that we’ve been here before/Heart torn out, down for the count and still come back for more/This lesson is learned too well/Though, only unlearned by the time your wounds have healed”. Huh? And I thought that I wrote melodramatic chick songs when I was a kid.

“Three’s A Charm” keeps the harmonies going, along with a “moderate” pace (just a dash of bash-bash in this one), and more lines about love . . . sigh. “I’m sorry girl, I’m in no shape to love/It’s not you it’s her/An absent-minded find was thought to be a lucky break, but what’s at stake is only dignity”. Actually, this stuff sounds like the kind of thing that would be written for N Sync or Backstreet Boys to make them sound all grown up. It’s not that far from that mark at all.

The band closes shop on their own compositions with “Greg’s Last Day”(more uninteresting lyrics centering around a friend who moved to Ohio) before attempting to cover the Diane Warren/Albert Hammond classic “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now”. Ah, the irony again! The pop punk band brings out an old chestnut and makes it “worthy” by recording it in their style. There’s absolutely nothing exciting about hearing this tune recorded in this fashion. It sounds like something that would be featured in a Mary Kate and Ashley flick. Hell, even an S Club 7 version would be more enjoyable than this.

So chalk another same-sounding disc up for another same-sounding band. You hear this one once, and you probably don’t need to hear it again, unless of course you’re a fan. I’m not. Still, it would have been nice to hear The Starting Line keep up the energy and style that they put forth on “Leaving”. One good song out of five is hardly worth getting excited about. But if this is your kind of thing, then have a blast.