It seems a bit unfair to lump Oklahoma power-poppers All-American Rejects in with the sort of Hot Topic rock that broke around the same time as the band did; sure, they’ve never been the most challenging of bands, and their candy-coated hooks generally make them feel like the musical equivalent of pop rocks, but if catchiness were a liability, The Beatles never would have commandeered rock and roll in the first place. The closest thing AAR have to a dyed-in-the-wool classic – 2005’s undervalued pop-rock platter Move Along – showcased sugary guitar riffs, lighters-in-the-air arena choruses, and gangbuster harmonies with an assured, winking hand, and if they’re a fairly basic collective, they’re certainly better at being basic than most of their peers.
And so, in 2012, The All-American Rejects are still striking a blow for loosey-goosey, summery power-pop; the band’s fourth record, Kids in the Street, is a breezy set of radio-ready summer jams that tweaks the formula just enough to keep things interesting. It’s unlikely to be the soundtrack to anyone’s revolution, but with a fresh batch of hooks under their belt and a few new production tricks up their sleeve, it’s often a blast to listen to.
AAR’s pop chops are on full display here; openers “Someday’s Gone” and “Beekeeper’s Daughter” – despite, strictly title-wise, looking like they’d be a Lynyrd Skynyrd epic and a Tori Amos ballad, respectively – both false-start as lo-fi garage-rock jams before kicking in as crisp pop tunes, underscored by clean acoustic guitar grooves and braid-tight harmonies. “Someday’s Gone” is a kiss-off squarely in the wickedly candid vein of previous hit “Gives You Hell”, while “Beekeeper’s Daughter” maintains enough tossed-off charm in its off-key whistling and slowly-swelling horn section to make lead singer Tyson Ritter’s cutesy comparison of himself to a bee primed to pollinate all y’alls flowers palatable. Ritter’s elastic tenor still maintains enough bratty charisma to sell his adolescent lyrics, and lends remarkable poignancy to nostalgic Duran Duran jams like the title track and slow-burn ballads like “Heartbeat Slowing Down” – he’s the rare frontman with the ability to casually sell almost Springsteen-esque levels of small-town ennui and aging anxiety.
It’s a full-band enterprise, however, and there’s an irresistible boogie burbling beneath the surface of “Fast & Slow”, a swift dance-rock number with a keen understanding of pop dynamics; meanwhile, the game Rejects try on a flamboyant Queen-like swagger for “Walk Over Me”, and it fits nicely. New producer Greg Wells – one of the dudes responsible for making Adele happen – guides the band through a bevy of sounds, incorporating synth-pop, gang vocals, pop coquette descants, and horn sections into the mix seamlessly. Kids in the Street flags by its final third – too many serious songs in a row causes the sugar rush to wear off, particularly on an album so exuberantly, flagrantly hook-y throughout its first half – but the power-pop magic of Move Along, sorely missed from the staid follow-up When the World Comes Down, is back in full, genial swing. In a way, AAR’s closest analogue these days aren’t fellow pop-punk journeymen Blink-182 and Jimmy Eat World, who have continued to release reasonably good records obsessed with showing musical growth; it’s newly-minted “We Are Young” hitmakers Fun., who’s Some Nights record recently struck a blow for smartly-arranged, insanely catchy pop songs that cater to the youth while still easily ensnaring the discerning pop-savvy adult.
That’s high praise – Some Nights is an early-year highwater mark, the sort of release that sets an almost impossibly high precedent for acts in the coming months with designs on end-of-year lists – but The All-American Rejects prove game hosts throughout Kids in the Street. Somewhat improbably for a group who’s first major single was puppy-love throwaway “Swing, Swing”, AAR seem destined to go the distance; four albums in, they’re already sounding like old hands at their effortlessly entertaining brand of pop.