The All-American Rejects have come a long way since they released their breakthrough single, “Swing, Swing”, almost a decade ago: they’ve toured the world, spawned a handful of top ten hits and hit platinum on both their debut and sophomore releases (double platinum on the latter). Now, three years after the release of their third record – WHEN THE WORLD COMES DOWN – the Rejects are back with their most mature and impressive release to date.
Put simply, KIDS IN THE STREET is a pop-punk tour de force, though it does the record an injustice to so carelessly lump it into any one genre. Across the span of the album’s dynamic 43 minute runtime, the band dabbles in dance-y, ’60s-style rock ‘n’ roll, early U2-esque ambient, arena rock and everything in between. Effects-driven instrumentals, massive gang-vocals, various synthesizers and every orchestral flourish imaginable punctuate each moment with impressive finesse and subtlety. Indeed, the arrangements are so dense for an album in this genre that it comes as little surprise that the album features a list of background artists that have been enlisted to throw in a bass line here or a supporting vocal there: infamous studio musicians Kevin Saulnier, Willy Wells and Lenny Castro all make appearances, as do Alex Kandel of Sleeper Agent, Audra Mae and Mika. The sheer amount of musical information that producer Greg Wells manages to juggle here is no small feat.
The production is lush and rich, not just earning but demanding repeat listens; every spin reveals new layers and textures for those who wish to mine the depths of each meticulously constructed recording. One time you might notice some minor, electronic ornamentation that dances gracefully around a multi-layered rhythm section, the next a nearly-imperceptible, harmonized vocal that exists just to give a sense of fullness to the wall of sound. Yet what’s most impressive about the album is how it manages to play with dynamics. Even in the quietest moments of the album – and there are several – that same musical density is present, even if you don’t realize it; so much of it feels like such a natural part of the arrangements that it all becomes nearly invisible.
Conceptually (or at least thematically) based around both the before and the after perspectives of hometown living, growing up and the emotional devastation of youth, the Rejects have managed to capture a sense of nostalgia in just about every way – lyrically, musically and atmospherically. As frontman Tyson Ritter croons, shouts and moans his way through track after track of youthful victories and tragedies, the band stretches their songwriting chops into heretofore un-mined territories, exploring decades-spanning riffs and styles that gives KIDS IN THE STREET its inherently timeless feel. The album places a constantly shifting wedge between the audience and its nostalgic perspective so that, no matter your generational position, you will find something to look back on here. Whether it’s the golden era rock ‘n’ roll riffage of “Fast & Slow” or “Walk Over Me”, the ’80s-influenced ambience of the title track or the more contemporary power-ballad “Heartbeat Slowing Down”, there is an unmistakable air of generation-defying youthfulness permeating each and every song.
Still, everything manages to come together so cohesively that you won’t notice the jarring shifts in generational rock music. The band manages to pull all of the sounds together – and adds a smorgasbord of new ones to keep up a diverse through-line from start to finish – to form one, singular entity. This is the kind of album that works much better as a whole than it does as a collection of singles – songs like the back-to-back tracks “Bleed Into Your Mind” and “Gonzo” use their atypical structures in order to meld together into something that transcends their individual parts. And as the album builds towards its inevitable conclusion with the heartstring-tugging lullaby “I For You”, there is a sense of closure, as if an elaborate story is coming to a close.
Even the cover art and promotional material (which bears an unmistakable and striking resemblance to a slightly-less-gothic version of My Chemical Romance’s THE BLACK PARADE) reeks of a larger story at play. Over a dozen characters decorate the album’s insert, posing in baffling, age-defying costumes, belying their varied appearances and melding past, present and future – a long line of kids of every age and walk of life, hiding behind masks and shields. And, of course, the marching band conductor who parades them down the streets of time.
In this way, KIDS IN THE STREET acts as a subversion of THE BLACK PARADE: whereas the latter was a melancholy meditation on youth through the eyes of a man dying before his time, the Rejects have approached the concept from a more nuanced perspective. While Ritter is just as capable of waxing nostalgic on the wonders of youth (“We were dreams / We were American Graffiti scenes / No war, no peace / No hope, no means, just us”) he’s also not afraid to slip back into the shoes of unbiased, teenaged rebellion (“I fucking hate this town / I want to burn it down”).
Destined to find its way climbing to the top of many pop-punkers favourite albums of 2012, KIDS IN THE STREET is an ambitious and eclectic outing from a band that many had pegged from the start, nearly a decade ago. Though it may polarize the purists, it will no doubt cracks open the doors of creativity for the band, and that’s a very good thing; after ten years, the All-American Rejects may have just released the pivotal album of their careers.
Standout tracks: “Kids in the Street”, “Gonzo”, “Affection”.