Sound — 6
Fronted by Stillwater, Oklahoma resident Tyson Ritter and supported by high school friend and Nick Wheeler, The All-American Rejects first recorded material that would appear on their debut in 2000 (now referred to as "The Blue Album") with guitarist Jesse Tabish, who departed before 2001's "Same Girl, New Songs" EP (also including several tracks from the debut). Signed to Doghouse Records and produced by Tim O'Heir (Lou Barlow, Morphine), the band initially released "The All-American Rejects" in 2002, commercially re-releasing via Dreamworks Records in 2003. Having only released the album by a hair (with the demo being saved from the trash by an intern at Doghouse), the album thrust the duo into superstardom with the single "Swing, Swing" and an eventual platinum certification in the United States. "My Paper Heart" opens the record with an immediate feel-good sound and delicate sensibility. At the outset, what you see is what you get: "The All-American Rejects" is a fun pop/rock album about girls and more girls. Ritter is a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed vocalist with a decidedly pop tenor range; behind him, acoustic chords and a sometimes-silly drum machine bounce along. Some moments are a bit more intense, but for the majority of the record, the "Reject" moniker is explored in full: these kids are used to being on the receiving end of heartache, and use such experiences as the backbone of the record. Musically, it reflects in the bright tone of the guitars, a heavy dose of melody, and occasional somewhat-cheesy fade effects and, in the case of the opener, liberal xylophone-imitating keyboard. Not only is the instrumentation essentially the same throughout, but so is the composition of the songs. Nearly every one is some form or another of springy pop/rock; some dabbling is done in balladry, though not nearly enough to earn any track placement on a Chicago record (the band is too young to know who they are anyway). The hit singles "Swing, Swing" and "The Last Song" both follow said bouncy formula, the former opening with organ-imitating keyboard and the latter with string-imitating keyboard. It isn't hard to see the all-too-recent high school breakups, even without the lyrics. When push comes to shove, it really is bubble-gum, but with a pleasant (rather than dull) sweetness. At the very least, the fun spirit of pop/rock is preserved and the band tries very hard to work with every last bit of complexity that can be squeezed out of an independent record label and keyboard. Recalling some of the 80's lightest summer singles, "The All-American Rejects" presents a readily marketable face for 2000s pop/rock; an image the band can hardly afford to cling to without incredible leaps and bounds in the next couple albums (spoiler: they barely make it). For now, however, it's an excellent introduction of a couple of Rejects into the industry, with only-too-fun, feel-good tracks about either breakup ("My Paper Heart", "Swing, Swing", "Why Worry", "The Last Song") or unrequited love ("One More Sad Song", "Time Stands Still", "Happy Endings", "Drive Away"). The drum machine, bizarrely, has more personality than some drummers in the same genre, and the variously-numbered (we've all owned one) keyboard sounds are a pleasant surprise. For a record with only guitar/drum/keyboard contributing to the musical arsenal, the record succeeds shockingly often - on the other hand, more complex debuts are certainly abundant, and with radio/MTV potential, the band does sacrifice some complexity.
Lyrics — 5
Singer Tyson Ritter opens the record, and as lyrically-based (often even narrative) as the record is, he steps up to the plate to varying degrees of success. Pop/rock is a many-headed beast for some singers, with the two styles often clashing in whatever decision-making goes on as to whether a "more rock" or "more pop" singer is needed. Ritter is of a decidedly "more pop" denomination, as is the record (and the lyrics). As such, he treads the line between sweet-sounding and whiny, especially with the considerably higher vocal range he skips through. The melody-based vocal parts mostly keep him out of trouble, though some moments (the bridge of "Swing, Swing" and any moment like it) highlight that obnoxious whine sound Ritter has such a wonderful grasp of when ending a phrase or note (we often hear this from other pop singers). Lyrically, the record is seldom impressive, seldom offensive. "One more sad song/Tears shed, she's gone" and the like border the "emo" tag (which, apparently, is lyric-based; God knows what the 2000s media would have done to a modern-day Beatles) the band later grabs (spoiler). For the most part, it's neither better nor worse than that; not to generalize, but not much is to be expected from just-graduated high schoolers, and to that end the lyrics achieve about as much as the music. The evenness is certainly easy to swallow, though by taking few risks the band loses out in the experimentation department (something contemporaries like Fall Out Boy and My Chemical Romance at least attempted) that could potentially have benefit them. A few fun moments pepper the record "Happy Endings" ("I wouldn't call it cheating") among them. "The Last Song" proclaims in the chorus that "this is the last song" and actually is, in an utterly un-ironic twist and strangely charming of fate, the last song. For what it is, "The All-American Rejects" satisfies lyrically and vocally, though on both counts the "pass" primarily comes from its debut status and fairly safe execution. Should Ritter attempt to break into the coveted hall of 2000s pop/rock singers (spoiler: it takes awhile), it would be in personifying his voice in the same sense that peers such as Blink-182's Tom DeLonge have: that is, embracing his own voice with its flaws and transcending what it was to fit the character of the band with, though discreetly in his case, a stage persona. Lyrically, the genre often offers very little, though some maturity would undoubtedly help the Rejects. Taking a few chances wouldn't hurt, either.
Overall Impression — 6
There is something wonderfully fresh about "The All-American Rejects", stepping outside into the scent of genuine pine (or so) rather than spraying or lighting incense. The brightness isn't altogether compelling, but certainly lights up the afternoon without feeling like the chore debuts too often tend to be. That being said, this is far from "Piper At The Gates Of Dawn", and there isn't a single moment in which the band attempts to convince us they're anymore profound than they are. To some degree, perhaps that's the charm of it. With Ritter as a passable frontman and a knack for instrumentation, there may be more to this little band than "Swing, Swing", though only in risk and experimentation beyond silly pop/rock will they achieve true success and recognition.