By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
In the past, the Get Up Kids' best defense against the emo tag was its live show. Onstage, the band keeps naysayers at a safe distance--its guitar riffs blast with an intensity that has never translated to disc. Even if an ear-plugged bully came close enough to smack a "Kick me, I'm emo" sign on their backs, no adhesive would stick to these sweat-drenched Kids. On a Wire, the group's first collection of new material in three years, changes the rules. Like a once-obese sixth-grader who comes back from summer vacation in muscular shape, the Kids eliminated the elements on which their tormentors focused, chucking giddy-up power-pop numbers and earnest love letters. But think of that freshly slimmed-down middle-schooler coming down with a bad case of acne, and you'll have an accurate representation of the blemishes on the Kids' new sound.
On a Wire qualifies as "Midwestern rock" in the worst possible way. Its relentlessly midtempo songs are conservative, inoffensive and unhip to recent musical advances. The ingratiating, radio-ready opening riffs of "Fall From Grace" scream "Smallville soundtrack"; the hazy melodic jangle-twang of "All That I Know" might fit on the I Am Sam collection of butchered Beatles covers; "Grunge Pig" could be the Black Crowes' Southern harmony and musical companion. "Wish You Were Here" isn't a cover of the Pink Floyd classic, nor is it a nod to the Incubus snoozer of the same name. Instead, it's just another jilted-love lament with a criminally uncreative title.
On the album's first line, Matt Pryor croons, "You're a few years overdue," a sentiment that promises to be a cheeky greeting to long-waiting fans--until it turns out to be just another relationship gripe. Similarly, On a Wire squanders interesting melodies, steady percussion and keyboard effects by keeping the songs slow (the average pace is standstill) and combining positive elements in a less-than-complementary manner. (The electronic squiggles behind the acoustic "Overdue" seem to be trying to wriggle into a more adventurous composition.) True to the group's newfound knack for misleading titles, all its best ideas pop up during "The Worst Idea," an organ-driven romp that showcases the rhythm section at its most aggressive and Pryor's voice at its most tuneful. "High as the Moon," a piano-perked number more precious than a photo of a kitten in baby clothes, might allow the Kids to score some adult-contemporary radio play. The group might have shooed off the emo albatross once and for all, but its young listeners might not want to associate with straitlaced Get Up Men.
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