Forever the Sickest Kids
Underdog Alma Mater
First Appeared in The Music Box, August 2008, Volume 15, #8
Written by David Gregory Schlegel
Sun August 3, 2008, 08:00 AM CDT
Anyone who hates Fall Out Boy undoubtedly will find that Forever the Sickest Kids is equally unbearable. Listening to Underdog Alma Mater, the bandís new album, is, at times, so excruciating that it is apt to leave a person searching for a sedative.
For a group that was formed by accident, when lead singer Jonathan Cook paid for an account on PureVolume to promote a song he hadnít yet written, Forever the Sickest Kids has had a lot of success. Its first track Hey Brittany was written within two days of the bandís formation. It subsequently became a huge hit. Less than a year later, Forever the Sickest Kids was signed to Universal Motown where it promptly issued its EP Television Off, Party On and joined the Vans Warped tour. Nevertheless, the outfit ought to have taken a minute to review its material before it decided to make a full-length album.
After listening to Underdog Alma Mater, itís impossible not to wish that there was a program such as Queer Eye for the Straight Guy that was designed to help musicians to find their own sense of style. Itís not a case that Forever the Sickest Kids lacks talent; it just needs...well...help. So many of its songs could be really good, but the band ruins them with the inappropriate use of synthesizers, vocal effects, cheesy chorus breaks, and whiny lyrics. The Way She Moves, for example, seems to be a solid tune, at least until Forever the Sickest Kids interrupts its momentum with turntable-scratching noises. This is akin to a hip-hop outfit randomly tossing a guitar riff into the midst of one of its songs and expecting its genre-bashing fusion to sound innovative. Hey Brittany would be much better, if only the collective hadnít tampered with its vocals.
Believe Me Iím Lying, on which Forever the Sickest Kids sounds like the Postal Service on crack, might have become Underdog Alma Materís best track. Unfortunately, when Cook starts singing "do, do, do," the cut falls apart. Sheís a Lady is musically flawless but lyrically challenged; such a good melody ought not to be undermined by self-pitying complaints about a girlfriend.
For all of its problems, only two songs on Underdog Alma Mater should be rethought entirely or just removed: My Worst Nightmare, and Uh Huh. The former track, in particular, sounds like the theme from Chariots of Fire as performed by an emo-rock outfit. These are two styles of music that should never be mixed.
Despite its many flawed songs, there are still some strong performances on Underdog Alma Mater. Whoa Oh! (Me vs. Everyone) is likely Forever the Sickest Kidsí most solid composition. The tune is catchy and structurally well designed, and, for once, it doesnít feature a band member complaining about his girlfriend or his ex. Elsewhere, Phone Call boasts an irresistible sing-along chorus, and with its softer, more reflective tone, Coffee Break provides a nice change of pace to Underdog Alma Mater. Considering that the album largely is filled with high-energy, pop-punk tunes, these tracks help to break up the intensity.
Because Underdog Alma Mater is the bandís first real album, Forever the Sickest Kids can be forgiven for its missteps. The outingís weaknesses are not the result of bad material, per se. Instead, Underdog Alma Mater is undermined by an accumulation of small flaws ó such as the rampant use of synthesizers and Cookís obsession with his girlfriend ó that ultimately make a huge difference. Heartfelt songs are great, but the proper conveyance of emotion is everything. Instead of just yelling about what happened, why not describe how a situation made him feel, so that the listener can be more in touch with the lyrics? Why doesnít Forever the Sickest Kids ever integrate its goofy sense of humor into its work? In looking at pictures of the band, one is left to think that perhaps Underdog Alma Mater will contain some levity. It doesnít. In the end, too many questions like these are left unanswered. If, however, Forever the Sickest Kidsí only goal in life is to get as many 16-year-old girls screaming as possible, then it has achieved its objective.
Of Further Interest...
Underdog Alma Mater is available
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2008 The Music Box