Emo bubblegum is a concept whose time has come, and The All-American Rejects' self-titled debut is probably as good as such an album could get without transcending the concept. Tyson Ritter's lyrics monomaniacally obsess over heartbreak with standard yelps, whines and rhymes (what follows "please stay"....ah! "Don't go away!") but where every other 20-something white male crybaby is focused on expressing lyrical content or sheer frustration, it's the NOTES that matter more than anything else for Ritter. Unless you can't stomach so much of the one emotion he has any desire to express ("This probably isn't the end of the world but, oh, it hurts! It hur-hur-hur-hurrrts!"), his consistency allows you to focus on the cornocupia of hooks that Ritter and his "guitarist/programmer" Nick Wheeler offer.
That's right, despite what their videos on MTV tell you, The All-American Rejects are a studio duo
. Frankly I wish they'd acknowledge this in their videos so that they'd be compared to groups like Savage Garden, The Pet Shop Boys and Wham rather than the other pop-punk dillpickles they resemble when joined by a drummer and second guitarist (Ritter doesn't just whine, he plays bass too! It's as if Andrew Ridgeley sang AND held an instrument barely heard on the song, leaving George Michael to focus on the music). Wheeler has a Spector-esque sense of arrangement, surrounding Ritter's blue-eyed sulk with oodles of harmonies, LATE '80s keyboards (think "Here I Go Again" and Hysteria
rather than the Cars) and other shamelessly non-punk studio trickery (they use the same bells on "Happy Endings" that thrilled me on classics like Urge Overkill's "Bottle Of Fur," Rocket From The Crypt's "This Bad Check Is Gonna Stick" and Smashmouth's "Your Man").
Where most groups would rush to note their obscure favorites and ignore the obvious mainstream influences, these guys ONLY talk about INXS, Def Leppard and Bon Jovi in interviews, leaving it up in the air where they picked up so much EMO. Seeing as how this album first came out on the blandoid indie Doghouse before Dreamworks realized that these crybaby blues were designed for late night Discman spins and Ritter's baby blues were meant for MTV rotation, maybe hanky-cranky Hot Topic stop-starts and lyrical monomania was just naturally picked up from basement shows and their peers. Anyhow, the important thing is that these guys have not shied away from the innate vacuity of so much pop-punk by upping the pretentiousness, but instead have incorporated the sonic sweetness of the music that actually sated them in childhood and made those studio gimmicks their raison d'etre. This isn't pop-punk, this is punk pop.