RIYLJimmy Eat World
Plain White Ts
LabelQuality Hill Records
2. Regent's Court
3. Shatter Your Lungs
6. Rally 'round The Fool
7. Better Lie
8. Keith Case
9. The Widow Paris
11. When It Dies
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Reunions are a tricky thing. Getting back together for the occasional concert or mini-tour is one thing, but trying to make a new record is a different animal entirely. For The Get Up Kids, it was only really five years or so between their initial dissolution and their reunion for the tenth anniversary of their landmark album Something To Write Home About, so it's not like they were in Stooges or Gang of Four territory. But five years is an entire generation in pop music whether we like to admit it or not, and to be absent from the scene that long and then try to come back and pick up where you left off has you running the risk of sounding out of step with the times. Luckily, all of the boys have been busy with side-projects - Matt Pryor has been recording under The New Amsterdams as well as recording solo material, James DeWees has been ruining Reggie and the Full Effect with mediocre albums, Robert Pope was rocking out in the excellent indie band White Whale with some other musical legends, Jim Suptic played in the criminally underrated Blackpool Lights, and Ryan Pope drummed for Koufax on their excellent Why Bother At All album.
So, it's safe to say that the guys weren't rusty when they decided to record their first set of new material since Guilt Show in 2004. They wisely started out with the excellent Simple Science EP, which sounded very much like a continuation of Guilt Show but with an even more mature sensibility. The release seemed to divide fans into two factions: one thought that the band should keep going, and the other thought that they were going to ruin their legacy if they went any further with this reunion business. Surely, this pairing of opposites got much more clear once the actual full length There Are Rules came out, as this record seems to almost go out of its way to alienate fans of the band and test their loyalties.
There Are Rules wastes no time getting into it, either. "Tithe" is the heaviest song the band has ever recorded, complete with feedback, a little bit of almost screaming, and a ton of effects. "Regent's Court" starts out with some very Bloc Party-like guitar work and sounds a bit like a Boy Kill Boy song; the only thing that makes it recognizable as a TGUK song is the vocals. "Shatter Your Lungs" sounds like it was produced by Brian Eno, and it's a definite throwback to 80s new wave. "Automatic" follows a similar path, complete with keyboards that at times seem to mimic Gary Numan's "Cars" before going a more traditional pop/rock route. The rest of the album seems to follow similar patterns - none of the songs sound alike, but the direction that they all take seem to follow the leads of James DeWees' keyboards, something that's never happened in this band before. Sure, the levels of keyboards have been increasing on each subsequent album since James was added to the band for 1999's Red Letter Day EP, but here they have as much power as they do in Reggie and the Full Effect, and the change in sound can really only be compared to what happened to The Smashing Pumpkins between Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness and Adore.
Whether or not you think that's a bad thing depends upon which side of the line you fall on. After hearing this album once, it's easy to dismiss it as an overly experimental flop, but the more you listen to it, the more it grows on you, and the more you see that this musical direction was the right thing for the band to do at this point in their career. Surely, the band's more rabid fans will keep listening to this record, hoping to "get it" as time goes on, but unfortunately, there are going to be a lot of casual listeners who abandon them just because there aren't any songs that sound like "Holiday" on it. Really, when it all comes down to it Guilt Show had the same reaction upon its release. And you know what? So did On a Wire two years before that. Everybody grew into those albums too. So all this shows is that The Get Up Kids have been consistently reinventing themselves with every album for a decade, and There Are Rules just continues that trend. So quit your bitching and enjoy the ride.