Big Bad Band. Big Bad Album. Greek: The Soundtrack. There are numerous names we could all choose to plaster on Plain White T’s fourth full-length release, Big Bad World — however, the most apparent one would be “awful”. In the seemingly endless ocean of pop bands looking for high water, this Chicago quintet desperately wants to be the next Fall Out Boy (just ask clothing outlet Aeropostale), yet they come across as the group of wannabe kids who chase the bus long after it’s taken off down the road.
Praying they can bank off last year’s chart-topping success of “Hey There Delilah,” the band continues their steep decline by writing some of the cheesiest, most gimmicky songs even Kidz Bop wouldn’t consider covering — it’s simply not worth paying for the publishing rights. Is the band aware of their awkward transition from average – but tolerable – pop-rock to bubblegum pop? One can’t be too sure, but with song titles like “Natural Disaster” (an awkward song about a groupie) and “Serious Mistake,” it seems like the joke is on the listener … right?
Tom Higgenson, the band’s lead songwriter/vocalist, used to write big, fun hooks with a soulful voice backing him up – but he’s turned into a laughable imitation of Pierre Bouvier (Simple Plan) with little to no range, writing songs that go from syrupy “aw-shucks” serenades (“That Girl”) to obnoxiously trite with commercial intent (“Meet You in California”). “I could fill up a river / With all the tears falling off of my face,” goes one especially bad line. Fred Rogers wrote better material than this, and his demographic was pre-school children. “I’m not a church-going man / But father, here’s a confession” — how many times have we heard that lame pun before? Oy vey.
”I Really Want You” tries to be some kind of Bob Dylan track (harmonica and all), but is oddly out-of-place; “Rainy Day” is an all-too-sappy ballad that is just a wet dog; “Sunlight,” which is the band’s stab at Brit-pop, is the best of the bunch here, but doesn’t fit in — probably because it was written by guitarist Tim Lopez. At times, the album is so sugary sweet, it’s stale: it becomes layered on so thick, you can’t even tell what’s genuine and what’s pop for pop’s sake. The lyrics are cliche-ridden, the musical variety is non-existent … is this really the same band responsible for the gloriously raw Stop? It simply cannot be (although it should be stated the band recorded this live, yet it’s still overproduced).
The album’s biggest flaw is not only supremely overwhelming blandness, but the extreme lack of focus: Higgenson & Co. are trying too many genres here, while keeping with their Disney-flavored pop and they fall flat on their faces. Higgenson has gleefully stated he wanted to make a “classic” pop album here, perhaps that’s the issue, because it’s just ten tracks of hodgepodge; the album sounds like it was written for a “Sesame Street” crowd (check out the “cautionary tale” title track and “1, 2, 3, 4” — counting is no longer fun). The band has said they wrote this as an album for people “of all ages.” Does it still count if no one of any age would find this garbage remotely appealing? Plain White T’s is right. Maybe you guys ought to consider changing outfits.