Sound — 7
"What makes you so damn sure that you're worth it, huh?" So opens The All-American Rejects' 2012 effort, very much reflective of my own thoughts at the record's outset. After 2008's "When The World Comes Down", I was left with a decided indifference about the would-be saviors of radio-friendly rock/pop. After the dangerously safe "Move Along" in 2005, an album critically neither-here-nor-there yet boasting an astonishing following, the band made quite the hoopla about the production of "WTWCD", from bragging over using good ol' fashioned tape (!) to record to avoidance of the Loudness War. While this is all well and good, I was less than impressed with the final product. It sounded just fine, but there was little to listen to. A few nice tracks littered the pack, but most of it was some form or another of a track from "Move Along". Not even recording at Skywalker Ranch (yes, THE Skywalker Ranch) peaked my interest. The album lacked the daring of their peers' successful third efforts My Chemical Romance's "The Black Parade" and Blink-182's "Enema Of The State", to name a couple. In the words of Punk News, "Move Along" rang with potential more than anything. "When The World Comes Down" never felt like a follow-through. As "Someday's Gone" opened 2012's "Kids In The Street" in an unabashed blast of God knows what, I finally found myself unconsciously smirking in delight a feeling I could only wish for from 2008 on. It was the first hint of a forty-five minute ride of experimentation I had seen glimpses of throughout the band's history proof, at long last, that The All-American Rejects was a real band, and not simply the 2000s corporate rock/pop edition of the Pussycat Dolls. Suggested in the song's music video, it was an exhausted beginning, contradictory to the rather conventional revving engine of "When The World Comes Down". It had character; Tyson Ritter especially shone as a worthy member of the genre. "Beekeeper's Daughter" brings the rock/pop sensibilities of "Move Along" back for a brief joyride coupled with the wacky instrumentation the rest of the record is supplied with. From there on, the record flirts with 80s-meets-rock/pop spectacle "influence" is a word often mistook with "inspiration", which is what the band utilizes here. It's a sense nostalgia for some of the popular styles of the day. The album paints with some of the same colors, but using distinct brushstrokes. I find this particularly noteworthy in the wake of the romance with the 80s the industry has had to some extent or another in the last few years. "Kids In The Street" pulls it off with taste, creativity, and craftiness. Seldom does the record stumble, and the forty-five minutes are felt most in those last ten the album's length is more than reasonable, but "Affection" wears particularly thin, especially after the beautiful "Gonzo". The album essentially has three ending songs, with "I For You" officially signing off (sounding remarkably like it may have been recorded in a single charming take, turning pages and all). "Affection" does have a fun ending, but with "Gonzo"'s strikingly similar composition, I'm left comparing the two, rather than enjoying each separately. Granted, this is a relief from "When The World Comes Down" inviting such competition between several pairs, but if a bit of the fat could have been trimmed at the end, "Affection", being a decent song in itself, wouldn't weaken the finale as much as it does.
Lyrics — 6
The band has never been lazy in terms of lyrics (though the progression in terms of quality from album to album is painfully apparent), but "Kids In The Street" marks a welcome maturity. The changes are rather understated, which is notably more comforting a harbinger than certain other efforts at lyrical "growing up" (I shouldn't have to stoop to a Miley Cyrus reference at this point bands like Simple Plan and 30 Seconds To Mars make the cut). The writing is writing, and its presence is quite matter-of-fact. What makes them stand out is Ritter's characteristic performance. Every track is fused with some form of spine-splitting effort whether a snicker at the end of "Someday's Gone" or striking honesty in "Heartbeat Slowing Down". The only throwaway track on those grounds (such a shame, as the production is so very charming) appears in the form of "I For You". Recalling the debut days the discovery of the nasal canal, as it were it is Ritter at his most vulnerable, yes, but at his most irritating. The two do not necessarily have to coincide.
Overall Impression — 8
"Kids In The Street" is not the definitive All American Rejects release, if only because it took so long to get here. At this point, the record they'll be dragging behind them until the end of time is still "Move Along". Were "When The World Comes Down" able to escape the label more deftly than it did, perhaps this wouldn't be the case. It isn't a horrible release, to be certain, but to see "Kids In The Street" arrive with so little said is more than a bit disappointing to anyone with a desire to see them wiggle into the 2000s post-emo hall of fame. They've finally made the leap into well-earned critical success, but after 2008's mediocre outing, things aren't looking up for the band. Whether or not it will be recognized for what it is, "Kids In The Street" is The All American Rejects at their absolute best. The songs are tight, the performances are remarkable, and the production is just short of astounding (hats off to Gregg Wells, famous for Weezer, Adele, Aerosmith, Ozzy Osbourne... The list goes on). Whatever previous labels have been attached are finally shed, and after success in creating many separate but decent tracks, the band has at last crafted a single wonderful piece of music.