Adelitas Way has done a lot of maturing since their very raw, emotionally melodramatic debut from 2009. While “Home School Valedictorian” maintains the genre’s penchant for self-deprecation, it’s not nearly as needlessly apologetic or adolescently bitchy as others in the vein.
This sophomore effort was produced by veteran Dave Bassett, who not only co-wrote the band’s smash single “Invincible,” but comes from a base of experience working with Shinedown, Halestorm and Josh Groban (one of these things is not like the others.) His influence is clear, as the production is smooth and free of unnecessary gimmicks or accents. The album is nothing if not a straight-forward, honest effort from earnest musicians.
There’s more to the band’s evolution than simply the production, however. The songwriting is less disjointed than the previous effort, and reflects a greater understanding of the idiom of new-school rock in the modern age. “Home School Valedictorian” is an album that uses capable arranging and layering to make each piece become more than the sum of its parts.
Similar to their debut, Adelitas Way shines brightest when putting the pedal down and forcing some adrenaline through their amps. This becomes most evident during the new single “Sick,” which is an overdriven affair that highlights the album’s more virile first half. “Criticize” is another song concerning emotional submission to a dominating, licentious female (aren’t there enough of these already?) but is notable for featuring a guitar lick that carries the faintest, far away echo of Mother Love Bone’s “This is Shangra-La.” The album’s back forty is notable mostly for “Move,” (not a cover of the Public Enemy song, unfortunately,) which is the only real impulsive crowd mover on the second half. “I Wanna Be,” is close, but doesn’t quite maintain the pace.
Before we get carried away, let’s be clear about a few things. “Home School Valedictorian” is still, at its soul, an assembly of radio-friendly hooks and proven-to-make-money progressions. There is little subtlety concerning the emotional context of longing, sorrow and bitterness, and those tropes aren’t presented in a particularly new way. From a musical standpoint there are no flaws, but the envelope remains squarely where it started. I remember criticizing the band’s debut by saying that I had heard part of that record by a thousand different bands before. That criticism still maintains a small measure of merit, though the caliber of the thousand different bands has unquestionably improved.
The songs I haven’t yet mentioned are what drag down “Home School Valedictorian’s” consistency. Even a potentially powerful song like “Can’t Cage the Beast” becomes predictable for long time fans of rock and roll. The other tracks, (“Hurt,” “I Can Tell,” “Alive,” etc,) fall into the trap of the emotional lowest-common denominator, or get absorbed into a paroxysm of verse-chorus-verse-wash-rinse-repeat.
Bottom line, if you’re not a fan of this millenniums’ radio-rock, you probably won’t find much to love on “Home School Valedictorian.” Discerning music fans may shrug their shoulders at Adelitas Way’s solid but not revolutionary musicianship.
Two years ago, I had some pretty harsh words for Adelitas Way and their eponymous debut. This is not that band. While still keeping their original character intact, the band has refined their sound as a reflection of their increased maturity. It is now fair to place them on an equal playing field with their hard-rock alt-metal contemporaries. Adelitas Way is akin to genre standard-bearers Theory of a Dead Man and Rev Theory, but without the grimy sleaze.