One doesn’t exactly get scene points for listening to The All-American Rejects—with a loathsome, snot-nosed, teenybopper fan base ruining any semblance of “cred” the band might have built up before their sudden mainstream success, along with the sneers of contemptuous music elitists further exacerbating the problem, it’s easy to see why it may not be “cool” to openly like The All-American Rejects. I, however, don’t give a shit. Playing a brand of infectiously catchy, well written modern pop on their self-titled debut, The All-American Rejects exploded onto the MTV scene in 2003 with their falsetto-filled, harmony-saturated “Swing, Swing,” a song bemoaning the recollections of a former love. After a relatively lengthy wait of nearly three years, The All-American Rejects have returned with their highly anticipated Move Along, an album that falls short of extremely high expectations, but delivers just enough to keep dedicated fans (and the record label) happy.
On The All-American Rejects’ self-titled debut, drum machines, cheesy keyboards, xylophones, organs, and other eclectic instruments helped to create a very unique, modern sound. Gone on Move Along is the drum machine that provided so much pep, in favor of an acoustic kit, somewhat dulling the fresh sound I had so thoroughly enjoyed, and though classical guitars, banjos, sitars, and orchestral arrangements are used, their appearances are so far and few between that it’s almost like they don’t exist. The All-American Rejects have opted for a more direct rock and roll sound by somewhat changing their instrumentation and abandoning what made them so fun in the first place. Nevertheless, the band does sound very good: singer Tyson Ritter sounds better than ever, both in terms of melody as well in clarity of delivery, and the ridiculous production allows for each of the countless layers of guitars to shine through the extremely clear, yet thick sounding drums. The production really is just remarkable, somehow both organic yet processed at the same time. I know that’s not even possible, but I think it’s the drums that help to ground the album, while all the ridiculous layers of vocals and guitars are what give it that processed, studio-enhanced sound.
The album kicks things off with “Dirty Little Secret,” an up-tempo, somewhat immature, destined-to-be hit that will undoubtedly please teenage girls everywhere (not to mention Interscope). Besides being a musical treat, just imagine how many little girls will be wistfully singing along with the chorus, wishing they were the subject of Ritter’s lyrics: “I’ll keep you my dirty little secret / Don’t tell anyone or you’ll be just another regret.” Gross. Anyways, the song’s bridge is incredible: going into a heavily layered, half-time breakdown, it eventually shifts to a small guitar interlude, and then to a whispered chorus. As soon as the song builds up again, Tyson changes his melody of the chorus lines, and though you may think I’m crazy, that vocal melody right there is one of the more musically orgasmic things I’ve heard all year—just give it a listen. The next track, “Stab My Back,” is a very typical All-American Rejects song, but has hints of a darker undertone, both musically and lyrically: “The phone rings / And she screams / Stab my back / It’s better when I bleed for you” is sung over an almost aggressive, minor sounding chord progression. The hi-hat heavy third track, “Move Along” is a great choice for a second single after “Dirty Little Secret”: it’s very well written, has a solid vocal melody, plenty of harmonies, and even a child’s choir! Despite the fact that the opening drum line reminds me of a Chips Ahoy! commercial, the instruments one-by-one introduce themselves, adding a little depth to the song, if even for only a short time. The oh-so-dreaded fourth track ballad that always seems to ruin the pace of many albums makes an unwelcome appearance on Move Along: “It Ends Tonight” begins with Ritter’s voice over a slow piano accompaniment, when eventual acoustic guitars and an orchestral arrangement enter into the mix. Even when the drums kick in, the song still goes nowhere. While many bands release these types of songs as third singles, I really hope The All-American Rejects choose otherwise. Moving along (ha, I’m clever!), “Change Your Mind” interestingly begins with pizzicato strings playing a pop punk chord progression; after a few measures, a lightly distorted guitar and vocals enter, only to give way to a shimmering clean guitar which eventually climaxes in a relatively boring chorus. The verses and the bridge in this song are really good, but the chorus just does nothing for me, and in pop songs, choruses are of utmost importance.
Skipping ahead to “11:11 PM,” we find a very guitar-centered song that features layered acoustic guitars, a somewhat “heavy” syncopated prechorus (complete with a recurring wah-wah’ed guitar lead), but unfortunately contains a chorus that, again, doesn’t seem to hold my attention. “Dance Inside” starts out with pristine, multi-tracked acoustic guitars and a very mellow sounding guitar lead line, but slowly leads to disappointment in the verse—in a weird way, it just reminds me way too much of “Move Along.” The rest of the song is pretty good—I really like the prechoruses, and the guitar solo is refreshing. The flamenco-influenced ninth track, “Top of the World,” is one of the better songs on the album, showing great maturity and avoiding any sort of cheese-factor with its driving guitars and bold melodies. Skipping ahead to “I’m Waiting,” we encounter an aggressive guitar intro that foreshadows the rhythm of the verses, and are treated to a delightful chorus. The album then closes on a sour note with the brooding, orchestral “Can’t Take It.” The song really goes nowhere, and though the bridge features a cool piano backing, it’s not at all the best way AAR could have closed the album.
Overall, The All-American Rejects offer a solid sophomore effort that somewhat lacks the really great songwriting their debut showed they were capable of. If you were a fan of The All-American Rejects’ first album, don’t expect an album as good as the first, but do look forward to a solid offering that should keep you happy for a little while. If you were never a fan, then this album isn’t really for you, except for perhaps a couple very good songs. The All-American Rejects definitely know how to write hits, and I’m already eagerly awaiting their next full length to see if they can really take their songs to the next level.