This review was written in 2004 and originally published on AbsolutePunk.net. It has been very minimally edited before being republished.
In a music industry riddled with lineup changes, hit singles, record label grudges, and more bullshit than probably anyone is truly aware of — Midtown are still the same four guys that brought forth their debut album from what seems like so many years ago. A few years have now passed, and the trials and tribulations this band has endured goes above and beyond what any of you will ever know. Yes this band has remained, and they have pushed through the pressure that was thrown on them by the media, managers, labels, and critics alike – and yet, they stayed true and together as a band, and as friends. When they were dropped by a drowning record label (MCA Records) almost 2 years ago, it should have been the lowest point in the band’s career. They should have given up. Everyone surely expected them to. Many stood back and quietly smirked at the band’s misfortune and it was in this desperate time that the band proved to everyone just exactly where their hearts were. They didn’t see what had happened to them as a failure, or as a set back … they saw it as a blessing and as a calling to re-evaluate their music, and their lives.
Without a record label backing them, they turned to a long time friend, Butch Walker, to help them produce the album they had wanted to create their whole lives. An album free of a record label telling them what they should try to sound like, or how to mold them as an image, an album free of the over use of fancy twists of dials and over application of filters. They saw this as a time in which they were going to be able to create an album without the world looking over their shoulder, and without everyone standing on their backs almost praying that they fail. Stripped raw, eyes widened, in the face of adversary: Midtown prevailed. The album’s title,”Forget What You Know,” almost prophecies what lies in her belly, and yet the band suggests that the meaning is much deeper than what you may first expect. The theme of the record has to do with things not being what they seem. Should we heed the advice of the album title and forget everything we know about the band Midtown? Not exactly – because knowing the past, and knowing where this band is from, and what they had to fight through to get where they are is half of what makes this album so spectacular. What can you expect from this release? First and foremost know that this is not a pop-punk record. Filled to the brim with minor keys, and un-containable energy, it’s easier should we simply refer to it as just rock and roll. As a long time Midtown fan, I was worried when I first put this disc in my CD player; I wasn’t sure what I could expect. Would going out on their own accord and taking a huge risk create a masterpiece as it had for Jimmy Eat World, or would it spell disaster? Well – you’re about to find out.
The album begins ominously with a slow building dark chant. It’s within the first 5 seconds of listening to this album that one is aware they are in for one hell of a ride. As the intro slowly fades – the listener is left wondering if this is going to be a slow album, maybe a boring album you ask yourself. Your answer comes in the form of 5 cymbal crashes, and then the familiar bratty vocals fill the stereo. Midtown has always known how to start an album with a bang. You’ll be playing air guitar (if you can keep up with the solos) in 30 seconds flat. You’ll be pumping your fist before the first chorus hits. It’s hard to suppress the smile that will no doubt begin to cross your face as you realize that not only is Midtown back, they’re better than they have ever been. By the end of the first track (“To Our Savior”), it was hard for me to keep still. The pure adrenaline rush from the hard hitting, faced paced, almost Millencolin styled song left me intrigued as what was to come. The next song begins with a beat that I am sure will be stuck in your head for the next millennium. “Give it up, give it up, don’t fall for the same things, give it up, don’t fall for mistakes that I’ve made” – memorize those lines now because after one listen this line will be implanted into your head with a branding iron. The pounding bass lines, the grungy guitars, and the ability all three singers have to blend their voices together makes me green with envy. As the breakdown hits, we get our first glimpse of something not usually akin to a Midtown album as a soft piano fades into the background. I’m a sucker for piano, I love the way it sounds, I love the gentle melodies – and well, this album ends up being filled with its subtle sounds. Beautiful. The next track is one that most people have already heard (“Is It Me, Is It True”), and the only thing I have to say about this song is that no one should judge this album based only on this track. It fits perfectly here on the tracklist as it slowly brings the pace of the album down a notch and acts as an ideal lead into the minute long intoxicating piano instrumental (“God is Dead”). Just as you feel yourself getting settled into the soothing harmony, the song ends with the sounds of crushing guitars as only one of my favorite tracks on the album (“Whole New World”) begins. The music fades low as the soft croon of the vocals begins in an almost Foo Fighters/Nirvana sort of melody leading up to what could be one of the coolest sounding rock songs I have ever heard.
I find myself nodding my head along to the beat and just letting the wall of sound push into my chest. The build up is perfect, and I find myself in marvel at the lyrical topic. Just as the song ends the next (“Empty Like The Ocean”) hits you with the opening line, “make my body motion” and the beat pounds through you like that of song playing a late night club where girls and guys grind away to the latest dance craze. “Dance until the sweat forms on your face, it won’t take long to flush the poisons,” you’ll find truth in the words as you try and force your body to stop dancing on the inside. Give it up, let the music take control. It’s about at this point in the song you realize exactly how potent music can be. The next track (“Nothing is Ever What It Seems”) begins in almost a Brand New style before hitting a chorus that can only be described as patented Midtown. The track ends before going into an “interlude” instrumental. I’ll be honest; in my opinion, it’s one of the better interlude songs I’ve heard in the past year, the beat is perfect, the instruments tight and compact, I dare you not to get lost. The instrumentals fade into a solo piano, playing a simple yet beautiful melody. The vocals pick up with a soprano tone, high yet gorgeous and you have to marvel at just how good he sounds. Filling this slow to mid tempo song (“Waiting for the News”) are the lyrics, “even though we sleep together, we’re alone” – and I would go so far as to venture that this is one of my favorite songs of all time. I think the lyrics are genius, the 3 part harmonies remarkable, and the song stunning. It’s how I would want a song to sound if I ever recorded one. The beauty of it all is that the next song (“Until it Kills”) picks up almost exactly where the last ended. It’s an acoustic sort of song, mellow and soft, yet packing the undeniable three vocals and rock. In a song like this you realize that the band truly set out to create an album they were happy with, and sat down to craft songs they loved, and that they made the album as much for themselves as for the general public.
I’m not sure if they knew what they were doing when they made this album, but they somehow produced one of the tightest collections of songs I’ve had the blessing to listen to in recent years. I honestly believe that every single person that takes the time to sit down and listen to this album, with an open mind, will find something that they love in it. Regardless of musical taste and regardless of grudges if you step out of your close minded musical box – I think you’ll love this album. The next track (“Help Me Sleep”) is straight up rock and roll with a Foo Fighters taste to it, the next (“Manhattan”) reminds me of Brand New’s “Tautou” with its infectious lullaby. And the final track is about as close to the “last album” Midtown sound as you will find on this album, minus the trance like state the disc literally ends in.
Did Midtown achieve the goals they set out to? I’m not quite sure. I know they wanted to make an album for themselves, and to make something they loved and without the usual pressures. I know that this album caused every record label in existence to start perking up. I know this album is without a doubt, after 30 listens, one of my favorite albums of the year. This album opened my eyes to dreams, and above all, in a scene currently dominated by screaming bands and fashion statements, it reminded me what it was like to really, really, rock. Be warned, this album may not have been written to be a huge hit — but it should, and most certainly can be.