Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Stuck at 16

Time to Begin
Love at 20

If you can allow yourself to get wrapped entirely in style and ignore substance, there are moments of Time to Begin that scream crossover potential. The nicely executed "So Bad," with its dance bass and disco hi-hats, has a sound that's modern and sounds like a real rock band. The earnestly rocking quintet has big ambitions, but is prepared to meet them with arrangements that are stylish and detailed. They have wider influences, but in a nutshell they're trying to combine the urgency and hook-friendliness of latter-day emo with the structural sophistication and widened chops of the 90's rock that spawned it. Love at 20 have a good idea of how to make songs dramatic within themselves, constructing them so there's lots of give and take between instruments and the big, signature soaring parts earn their place. They also do a good job of varying styles across songs, ranging from harder rockers to a dance-conscious side to big ol' power ballads.

They seem to take themselves rather seriously. Besides romantic subjects, the major song preoccupation on Time to Begin is the business of fame, not something Love at 20 really have to worry about applying to their own lives as of yet. Sometimes it helps to write some songs about smaller topics, or at least include more specific details. The lyrics on this record are broad to the point of being terrible. Love at 20 sound a lot like Weezer, even more so when they're trying not to do so, and the comparison isn't flattering. This band sounds more like the post-reunion, autopilot-pop Weezer of the green album onwards, only they don't have any sense of humor about themselves or the generous hooks needed to redeem their extreme seriousness. The last several songs on Time to Begin, from the maddeningly vague industry commentary "Time to Begin" through the Lifetime Original Movie romance of "Hearts and Fire" and "Things to Come," utterly undo whatever good works the rocking first half may have held. The lyrics are dreadful, and the music is aimed right for the junior-high dance floor. Were I considering marriage to the author of "Things to Come," I think I'd be too embarrassed to go through with it.

They're not powerful enough musically to tackle these topics head-on, and the lyrics lack the sophistication to mock themselves or at least add an original perspective. It's much harder to appreciate the qualities of the rhythm section, the unpredictable use of backing vocals, and the touches of guitar effects and keyboard when the central focus is so unintentionally silly. Of course, you're only 20 once, and there's a certain equally unself-conscious audience on whom this sort of stuff impacts like a angst-seeking missile. The music is much developed beyond any of their immediate competitors. To really shine equal thought must go into making the words match better.

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