There Are Rules By The Get Up Kids
When I was in high school, I went to a show billed as the one of the final The Get Up Kids shows. It seemed so surreal, like the end of an era: The Get Up Kids were such an integral part of the '90s emo scene (you remember that, of course–the kids in sweaters and glasses before that look was cool) and kept going strong for about ten years and then broke up in 2005.
Usually I get a little annoyed when bands break up and then get back together. It's one of those things that's as predictable as an encore at a concert, but not as thrilling. With The Get Up Kids, however, this mild hesitation evaporated as soon as I heard their new album, There Are Rules. This is largely because this album sounds like a completely new band, and the result is simultaneously exhilarating, intriguing, and frustrating to the listener.
When bands try to break their own mold, it's always interesting to see what happens along the way. A band finding its footing in new territory can range anywhere to a total catastrophe (i.e., the Alkaline Trio's Crimson) to fun and interesting (for example, the entire Clash discography). There Are Rules is no different, bouncing all over the place to pay homage to the band's multiple influences, from what seems to be the Cure to the Cars to the Smashing Pumpkins. The album is uncharacteristically gritty, characteristically laden with depressing lyrics, and unambiguously hard to keep up with. It is not at all consistent with their past releases (or consistent at all, really), so any listener trying to find scraps of the old The Get Up Kids in this album will be disappointed. Regrettably, the same holds true for any listener trying to find scraps of unified sounds and styles. If you're looking for an album with a shred of cohesion, this is not it.
Matt Pryor's voice was once a signature of this band- truly a distinction that set them apart from other bands of their generation. Instead of the passionate, pleading vocals of albums like Something to Write Home About and Four Minute
Mile, this is a release where Matt Pryor sounds distorted, far away, and even uninterested. The only track where he sounds powerful and engaged in what he's singing is on the track "Keith Case," but it's not clear whether he sounds that way because he's genuinely dedicated to the song or if he's trying to wail over the persistent bass line, amplified egregiously and laid, irritatingly enough, right over the vocals. "Rally 'Round the Fool," while sung in a woefully and communicates defeat and hints of their older work, still can't escape the eerie, bitter taste of The Smiths.
After all this, it's "Shatter Your Lung" that takes the prize in the category of the most out of place song on the album (a lofty goal for a release that sounds largely out of place to begin with): instrumentally as well as vocally, it sounds like it was lifted almost directly from a Vampire Weekend demo on someone's found external hard drive. The divergent instrumentals are also worth noting. Tracks like "Pararelevant" give its listener a tempting taste of a song that should be exploding into a powerful wall of music and what has potential to be the album's most commanding track; what happens instead is less climactic: an introduction that dreams are made of, and then a song that winds up being bewilderingly tedious with relentless, unchanging drum and guitar lines. This is a theme consistent throughout the album: strong and intriguing in the intro, sleepy everywhere else.
At the risk of being naive, it is refreshing after listening to such a nomadic album to realize that, hopefully, this is one stop along a bigger journey for The Get Up Kids, a step towards a more defined style that will be the departure they're clearly striving for from their previously established reputation. What's the next stop on this adventure? Is it a more resolute sound? A less erratic collection of songs seemingly thrown together at random for 42 minutes? Let's hope so. If not, it could be the difference between The Get Up Kids getting up or falling down.