I’m such an a-hole. I hear the most recycled chord progression, the most unoriginal voice, the most unforgivably familiar melody line, and something deep down in me squeals with joy. I’ve tried to purge this condition. Long nights of obscure Japanese pop, road trips set to the freak-folk soundtrack of the Danielson Famile and Daniel Johnston, daytime catnaps to Afro Cuban folk and Canadian 8-bit break-core, and truly these things have shaped me, but its to no avail. I can’t get rid of the teen-sugar pop-punk blues.
I got shivers up and down my spine the first time I listened to Relient K’s “Deathbed,” Five Score And Seven Years Ago‘s 12 minute Billy Joel style closing track, I cried (in my heart) when Acceptance broke up, and again when they reformed with a different singer as Thunder Thunder (maybe the worst idea, and band name in history), I still think “Move Along” is the most honestly meaningful radio song in years, and when people mention “Say Anything” I think of Cartel not John Cusack.
It’s with this heavy-hearted confession that I step inside the all too familiar world of Run Kid Run. As with any recent notable pop-punk recording, we find the same elements as always, altered slightly and arranged to taste. Like a musical Mr. Potato Head. As if there exists only one template of “build your own song” ideas (progression A, solo B, intro A, producer C, melody A, harmony B) which before the recording starts is laid out in front of the band and arranged in preferred sequence.
“My Sweet Escape” starts off sort of sweetly but gets unraveled in out-of-place-worship-breakdown no man’s land. It’s not bad, just poorly placed, too short, and a little bit lazy. Apparently the motto goes “blather, wince, repeat,” as three songs later we find the closing track “Freedom,” a sunken treasure of hackney-er-than-thou fridge-poetry worship. “Oh my chains/I can’t disengage/I don’t believe that I want to/one hand sings your praise/the other brings me shame/I have selfishness to blame”… is he singing about what I think he’s singing about? No. That (however inappropriate) would be sort of ballsy. And Love At The Core is anything but ballsy. No pun intended. “Looking down I lay/I keep holding my chains/no longer bound but here I stay…” look guys we’ve all used a rhyming dictionary once or twice, but the point is that you’re not supposed to be able to tell. I just don’t understand how an “on fire” heart is supposed to get away with whitewashing terrible art.
Run Kid Run’s biggest talent might be the ability to weasel their way into your brain uninvited and unabashed. Leaving you frustrated, then interested, then tolerant, and finally marginally supportive. Then frustrated. More-so. That and their tight, squeaky clean sound. Except all that credit goes to emo-ducer James Paul Wisner (The Academy Is, Underoath, Further Seems Forever, Dashboard Confessional). Or at least most of it. Let the record state that I gave credit where credit was due.
It’s a tough war to wage. There are times when criticism must bow to convention. Sometimes ear candy wins out. But Relient K’s Mmhmm and Five Score…, Paramore’s RIOT, Everyday Sunday’s Wake Up Wake Up, and 90% of Anberlin’s catalogue, all have at least some sense of identity. And identity brings us to the million dollar question: at what point did RKR’s former band Side Walk Slam decide to change their name, image, and vocals, but keep essentially the same line up and genre; just trading in their chick magnets for cork trees? In the world of Fall Out Boy clone-o-bots they fall somewhere between The Classic Crime and The Fold, but worse. Actually I take that back. They’re all worse.
Again, catchy. Some of it incredibly so, but who cares by this point? Maybe I was wrong. Maybe there is life after adolescence, and my sweet tooth can learn the nutritional value of a properly balanced musical diet. Maybe all my case of the pop-punk blues needed was one last taste of the same effing song 11 times in a row.
Jordan Kurtz is a Patrol assistant editor and a radio host in Saskatchewan.
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