The All-American Rejects make me feel old. As a member of an internet community supporting a not-to-be-named pop band, I was one of the first to come into contact with the then upstart kids. Their independent label first album gained traction and spread among pop-rock fans by word of mouth, building a fan-base before getting the major label treatment. What was evident in that first batch of songs was a knack for writing a hook. Saccharine as any fan of grittier rock music would call it, that debut album was a masterful piece of pop music, considering the youth on display. “Swing Swing” would become a hit, the album would take off, and ten years of maturity leads us to a point where the onetime kids are now writing albums about the next generation of kids.
Maturity is the key upon which “Kids In The Street” turns. The songwriting has brought in more adult influences, the rough edges have been banished to the first few seconds of songs, leaving behind a collection of pop music that no longer aspires to win credibility from the punk or rock circles. First single “Beekeeper's Daughter” sums this up nicely, as studio laughter and a rough guitar chord give way to a song that fully embraces pop sheen. The lyrics try to maintain a sense of youthful energy, but can't override the sense of professionalism the song breathes. The stabbing guitars and subtle horn accents are calculated, effective bursts serving the purposes of the hook.
More influences are brought in as the album rolls on, with “Fast & Slow” paying more than homage to the electronic landscape of the 80's, and “Heartbeat Slowed Down” borrowing the aching tone of U2. Neither song sounds like a carbon copy of their influences, but they are able to effectively recreate the sounds of bygone times. “Walk Over Me” adds fuzz to the bass, but never manages to make the song come across as any more raw. It's still polished pop, just painted with a different brush. The second half of the album changes gears, putting the loud guitars on the back burner, bringing in string arrangements and acoustics. It's an awkward transition, and begs the question; which half is where the band wants to be?
In many ways, someone who hadn't kept up with the band since they came on the scene would have a hard time recognizing “Kids In The Street” as being The All American Rejects. Tyson Ritter's vocals possess the same teenage tone as before, but everything else has changed. The music is darker, less enthusiastic, and even the diction of the melodies has changed. That may be the defining feature of the album, a set of melodies that change what didn't need to be changed. This brand of pop-rock lives or dies on vocal lines, which was the band's best selling point. They knew how to write hooks, which implies they no longer do. That's not an accurate assessment. There are still hints of strong melodies to be found throughout “Kids In The Street”, they just take longer to uncover. Much of the album is content to be melodic instead of pop, a distinction that may sound trivial, but is immense. This is pop music that isn't immediately gratifying, which makes it hard to judge.
The music may be more mature, but not every band can pull off the aging process. There are flickers of a bright future here, but they struggle to shine through the haze of melodic stagnation much of the album lives under.