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Music Review: The Starting Line – Direction

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Pop-punk took the world by storm with the arrival of New Found Glory and their high energy video for “Hit or Miss.” It got great rotation on MTV2 when MTV2 used to be for music you couldn’t see on MTV. You remember. Back when it was not all rap videos. Sorry…I’m a little bitter.

NFG paved the way for many bands to come, most notably the current superstars Fall Out Boy. But before FOB there were a bevy of bands, formerly on Drive-Thru Records just like New Found Glory, who finally got some recognition after several years of constant touring.

Enter The Starting Line. Their debut full-length album, Say It Like You Mean It, featured their undeniably infectious style of catchy pop-rock. “The Best of Me” was one of those anthems that had teenage girls swooning, 20-something guys bouncing around at shows, and record moguls steepling their fingers in scary interpretations of Mr. Burns from The Simpsons. On the back of “The Best of Me,” that album sold over 300,000 copies. Not a bad deal for a young group of guys on an indie label.

Following friends NFG, The Starting Line made the huge, and possibly much too early, leap to Geffen Records. They hit, what we like to cutely call, a major sophomore slump. Dropped in 2005, Based On a True Story, was an interesting album, but a bit confusing to long-time fans expecting the hook-laden pop feel of SILYMI. What they got was a much darker, much harder sound. And more importantly, the album was just downright depressing. It is not that it wasn’t a good album. The songs were such lyrical 180’s from the previous album that it felt like listening to a different band entirely. What did not help was that Geffen, whether just acting the negligent label or concerned about the new sound, did not give Based On a True Story any support. Sales were extremely disappointing.

The band, still boasting its original four members, begged to be released from their contract and immediately signed with Virgin Records. What we have gotten as a result, is Direction.

Direction, for me, is a perfect mix of SILYMI and BOATS (that’s a terrible acronym, isn’t it?). The hooks are memorable enough that you will find yourself humming them the minute you turn off the stereo. It is power pop that will certainly translate live and that will keep your head bopping in tune. Conversely it is also more mature subject matter. No longer stories of a boy missing a girl. Now we get a direct look into what has been going on in lead singer and bassist Kenny Vasoli’s head during the wild journey his band has taken.

The main lyricist for the band, Vasoli is to be commended for his honest approach to this album. He seems to have found his writing stride, settling into an aesthetic that works for him and works for the kind of music that The Starting Line is best at writing. The title track is clearly about the backlash, on both the music and the personal lives of the band, that followed the release of Based on a True Story. When he writes “Breakdown/I’ve been breaking sweats in the night time/I was growing my hair/and I could not care,” his frustration is laid bare and it is beautiful.

Even better, his conviction shows in his singing. It has been a pleasure to listen to Vasoli grow up. His voice is more powerful than it has been on any of the band’s albums to date, particularly on the title track, which is a fast-paced rock romp that recalls their pop roots but shows an interest in going to a whole new plane.

The first single off the album, “Island,” is definitely more on the pop side of things with a catchy refrain that I didn’t love at first but which has grown on me. The bridge has some inspired percussion that really will take you to the tropics. This would not have been my first choice of a single, but it might just be the bridge that will draw older fans that were lost during the BOATS era back to this new album.

There are a few problems through the middle of the album. I love The Starting Line acoustic because it well suited to their sound and Vasoli’s voice is still what can only be described as pure. “Something Left to Give” starts out beautiful, but near the end a chorus of “la, la, la’s” is distracting and really takes away from the track.

Perhaps one of TSL’s best tracks to date, though, is “Way With Words.” It is a song that could slide easily onto radio of today and it is a perfect snapshot of what The Starting Line is all about – those self-aware lyrics mixed with sing-a-longability.

To make a long review…well, long…Direction has brought us a new The Starting Line. They’ve grown up and they are damn proud of it. Look no further than the lyrics of “Somebody’s Gonna Miss Us.” “If SILYMI still is all you want/then I’m not sure/how much in common we’ve got.” Look out world. The Starting Line is letting their sound evolve and they don’t care if you like it or not.     

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About Kate C. Harding