The Starting Line

The Starting Line - Direction

This summer reads like a pop fan’s wet-dream.

We find July bringing the trifecta of “must-own” summer albums to a close. For those who lean toward the pop persuasion, The Starting Line will come as a fitting end to a two week burst of purchases that is sure to include multiple trips to the record store in search of Yellowcard and MxPx. This gives you two full weeks to play both of the aforementioned albums – because once you’ve purchased Direction, it’s unlikely to leave your stereo for quite some time.

In their third (official) full-length release, The Starting Line have combined the sounds of their previous efforts to concoct an album that gives pop-music its soul back. An album as full of hooks as it is gusto, as full of sing-a-long tunes as it is moxy.

Direction is, at its core, the best parts of everything The Starting Line have to offer. The youthful joy of Say It Like You Mean It coupled with the brooding maturity of Based on a True Story. This dichotomy of sounds blends beautifully through its sequence to tie the listener up in melody while helping the album remain playful yet somber. One of the first noticeable traits is how obvious the songwriting outshines many other pop-rock acts searching for stardom. The songs are strong first, catchy second. The lyrics whimsical yet oddly ironic, and not once is the listener left with a rushed feeling.

The album’s opener, and title track, set the – pun intended – direction for the entire CD. Quick drums, pristine production, undeniable choruses. The album moves between tempos and cadences while maintaining a distinctly “Starting Line” sound. Kenny’s vocals sound stronger than ever – his unique diction tying phrases together in a manner that emphasizes each word. Stylistically the album varies by track. We have the pure-summer hit in “21”; a fast paced pop-punk tune. The half-ballad of “Are You Alone?”; featuring cleverly layered vocals. And the almost folk-like and largely acoustic “Something Left to Give.” The meat of the album is within “Birds,” “Way With Words,” “I Could Be Wrong,” and “Somebody’s Gonna Miss Us” – all tracks that maintain a lighthearted feel braced by dueling guitars and Kenny’s curiously poetic lyrics. It’s within the heart of the disc that it truly shines. For example: the clever nuances found in the pre-chorus of “Birds” as it builds into melody. Or the verses of “Hurry” where Kenny sings in an autobiographical manner about swollen glands, stage presence, and “writing a note to his future ghost.” The songs bleed to form a mixture of Motion City Soundtrack meets The All-American Rejects – two variations of pop melting into a sugary and sour aural treat.

Many loved the fun atmosphere that surrounded the band’s first release. Others were impressed by the different pop sound the band created for their second. However, it’s within their third that the band actualizes their sound to its full potential. The music sounds natural while the songs contain enough to be instantly satisfying yet hold back enough to ensure rewarding repeat listens. It’s rare that an album classified so strongly as “pop” can contain something more beneath the surface. Whereas the band’s sound is not likely to win over staunch haters (of the band or genre), it’s an album that has massive cross-over appeal. So much so that when pop fans look back at 2007, July will be marked as boldly as a stain on a dark sheet. The money shot coming with the release of Direction.

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