Sound — 6
After 2005's highly successful "Move Along", The All-American Rejects re-entered the studio after two years' worth of touring and other performances, with much of the material for a follow-up having been penned on the road. Interestingly, Eric Valentine known for his work with Smash Mouth, Good Charlotte, and later Slash was hired to produce. TAAR had previously worked with My Chemical Romance and Daughtry alum Howard Benson on "Move Along"; the change suggested a stylistic departure to accompany the production changes. The album built enough hype to be named one of Alternative Press's most anticipated albums of 2008, and was released with some fanfare, outselling "Move Along" in the first week with particular assistance from the "Gives You Hell" single. Whether Valentine was brought on-board as a compensation for stylistic shifts or simply because the band can't hold down a producer, "When The World Comes Down" is certainly better off for it. The record is more in line with many of Valentine's previous partnerships, with fuller composition and largely more diverse instrumentation than "Move Along" (furthermore, any of Benson's bands). Looking at the making-of documentaries (included with the Deluxe Edition of the record), much of it is owed to the creative forces within the band and to great effect. The songs often sound bigger and cleaner than much of "Move Along"'s mostly radio-friendly tunes. The most welcome change is a gracious departure from Loudness War production; the album is crisp, clear, and at times interesting. Despite the massive improvements in production, the band itself hasn't changed much and the album suffers as a result. Behind a thin veil of impressive production, there is truly little departure from "Move Along" especially in the rock-sensitive tunes. "Gives You Hell" is right next to "Change Your Mind", "Real World" is suspiciously akin to "Top Of The World", and "Back To Me" is simply a new version of "It Ends Tonight". When the band goes to any length to distinguish this album from the last, the results are tragically mixed: "Another Heart Calls" in particular is a weak alternating duet with Catherine and Allison Pierce ("Move Along" is all over the later verses). "I Wanna" opens the record with a sense of "We're The All-American Rejects and nothing has changed but the production" every hook from the last album is back, with perhaps a small recollection to the band's 2002 debut in some of the techno/pop elements. "Fallin' Apart" uses essentially the same formula: "Move Along" with a small hint of the debut hoping to be its own song. It almost works at times, but ultimately fails to bring enough to the table to redefine the band or its genre. If there is any point at which the band breaks routine, it doesn't come until the closing "The Wind Blows". The song is a wonderful breath of fresh air after "Back To Me" gives us the proverbial finger; it's a nice throwback to 80s synth-pop, which has enjoyed a revival in the years since. "Sunshine" experiments further, but why so late in the record? After an inexplicable 30 second silence (I wasn't aware we were still incorporating non-gag hidden tracks into respectable music), it closes the album after all of (count 'em) two truly astounding tracks. Granted, twelve tracks of synth-pop would've been just as tiring as the record is, but at the very least, it was something distinctive something interesting. Though elements of this existed in "I Wanna" and "Fallin' Apart", but was there no possibility of fusing some of it into the countless All-American standards? "When The World Comes Down" wins out with its production, but its musicians seem to be a step or two behind. The record is far from a "Move Along" remake, but there's a definite hint of riding its success if not in the five or so songs meticulously copying it, then in the half-baked departures of "Another Heart Calls", which feels more like "feat. Tyson Ritter", and "Breakin'". The record is most certainly pleasant on the ears (good ol' fashion tape), and those who missed "Move Along" will enjoy it, but from a creative standpoint there is very little to truly remark upon.
Lyrics — 4
The band has never produced any lyrical gems, and "When The World Comes Down" is perhaps the most blatant example of their amateurism. Examples include "Damn Girl"'s "There you go again/Ooh, you think that you can just push me around/Yeah, and there you go again"; and "Another Heart Calls" with "Do you remember when we didn't care/We were just two kids that took the moment when it was there" and "This could be the last mistake that I could ever want to do." Further than being bad writers, this makes the band doubly unimpressive for not improving musically OR lyrically. Sure, no one expects Tom Waits, but "Time won't give back when I'm never around" doesn't cut it. To make matters worse, Ritter still expects us to ignore the numerous problems with his voice. Varied attempts at falsetto feel out of place and the whine at the end of some (most) notes is as irritating as ever. The nasal issue has already been addressed. To some extent, this could all be improved if Ritter would just move down in pitch. The change wouldn't require any drastic transformation, but at least it would keep some issues at bay while he learned how to move between notes. On the other hand, he wouldn't have to change one bit if he would brace a fundamental element of singing rock music: character. Contemporaries Gerard Way (My Chemical Romance) and Tom DeLonge (Blink-182) excite, even in sounding bad, because they've embraced the character of who they are as a musician, separate from trying to sound well good. Freddie Mercury (Queen) was particularly known for this that is, of course, when he wasn't simply singing well and Axl Rose (Guns N' Roses) is a prime example of lousy singing made to sound good. Just add character. Whether Ritter improves in either realm (inexplicable knowledge of the follow-up tells me he will), "When The World Comes Down" suffers incredible damage simply because he is hard to listen to vocally and lyrically. I wouldn't say the album sports strong moments as much as moments that aren't as weak as others in particular, "Mona Lisa" stands out, though it succeeds for not being radical. "The Wind Blows" is another bright spot, though it succeeds for being radical. Anything in between is entirely hit-or-miss, and in my experience, that's a lot of miss for a followup to a radio-friendly rock/pop/emo (whether the tag is accurate or not, it's there) album.
Overall Impression — 5
With "When The World Comes Down", The All-American Rejects certainly took a few welcome liberties, with production improving immensely and the overall listening experience much lighter on the ears, but the material presented is simply lackluster. Some of the best musical moments aren't necessarily cohesive with the identity of the band specifically, a few instances in "Another Heart Calls" which either hearken to "Move Along" or feel like a left-field one-off. More often than not, the record is simply weaker than its predecessor many of the songs are harder to relate to ("Real World", "Believe"), many try hard and fail to be some brand of profound ("Real World", "Believe"); some songs just plain suck ("Real World", "Believe"). It is incredibly difficult to distinguish whether the album is an attempted departure from previous work, or simply an extension of past success. While a song like "Real World" offers a few (bad) curves, "Back To Me" recalls every detail of another record as though it were 2005's next single. "When The World Comes Down" record simply doesn't boast enough experimentation or deference from the rest of their material. If the band takes a few healthy steps in the right direction, the glaring potential many critics spoke of may finally come to fruition. Ritter may turn into a rock star; The All-American Rejects may transform into the all-American rock band they seem to have been chasing after since 2005. If its members do not present a record to move THEM along, the band may find itself forever trapped in 2005's "emo" brand.