All American Rejects – s/t (Doghouse/Dreamworks)
Rarely does one find boys this pretty outside of an E.M. Forster novel. Oddly when AAR were mere Doghouse recording artists, they were a duo. On Dreamworks, they have multiplied (or perhaps been cloned). Strange how things like this work, but I found the group more intriguing when they were a duo.
Their songs — which are perfectly-crafted slices of pop hooks and sensitive guy lament — make great use of drum machines and keyboards along with the usual rock implements. AAR use electronics without drawing attention to them for novelty’s sake. The keyboards soften the guitar sounds rather than stick out like a new new-wave band’s.
The single “Swing Swing” is an easy target for lyrical criticism. Pop hooks are great, but there’s only so many mentions of tears, crying, notes, hearts and “love” that a red-blooded man can take. That said, like every song on the record, “Swing Swing” benefits from a manic attention to detail. The keyboards bolster the more ambitious vocal lines and little guitar riffs dart around the big chords.
“One More Sad Song” drives along a little harder than most of the material thanks to some chugging guitars. “Why Worry” easily dispels preconceived expectations as each part of the song is another effortless hook. It may drag out its saccharined coda but it doesn’t feel like a cookie cutter version of the other songs. This is one of the band’s real strengths: writing songs which vary in rhythm, tempos and changes but retain an identifiable style.
“Paper Heart” and “Your Star” start the album off with two great examples of the band’s style and variation. “Paper Heart”‘s drum machine beats out a quick pulse while acoustic guitars sail over top. “Your Star” kicks choppy electric guitars and piano over live drums. The big chorus confirms that with their romantic leanings, sharp guitars and sweet vocals, these guys’ll probably turn up in the background of Sorority Life soon enough. If John Hughes were just now making any of his Ringwald-era films, AAR would be assured a slot on the soundtrack.
So the lyrics tend toward the sappy and the voice jumps to falsetto more than a fellow dude might like. AAR are young; maybe they take this shit seriously. Maybe they think it will get ’em a lot of puss. Perhaps they’re just unfamiliar with the wise fellow who once said, “You start talking to ’em about puppy dogs and ice cream; of course, it’s gonna end up on the friendship tip.”