Having not released a full album in over four years, the Plain White T’s new album was surrounded by varied expectations. Although it produced past hits, including “Hey There Delilah” and “Rhythm of Love,” the band has been unable to maintain this success in recent years.
Its most recent attempt is no different.
The new collection of songs in “American Nights” promised to provide listeners with a rejuvenated interest in this American alternative band, but unfortunately, this album fails to deliver anything spectacular.
Lacking the subtle pop-punk qualities that once elevated the band’s music, the majority of these new songs fall into the now hackneyed category of indie-pop. Songs such as “American Nights” and “Stay” attempt to capture the essence of a catchy indie-pop tune, yet their predictable lyrics and formulaic sound are ultimately forgettable. Sadly, this becomes a constant theme, as each song blends together in a stream of mediocre melodies.
Each song reveals an attempt by the Plain White T’s to infuse their lyrics with personal experiences and emotions. When successful, this combination has the power to craft both powerful and relatable pieces. However, in the majority of the tracks, the music comes across as phony and forced. Multiple songs on the album, namely “You Belong” and “Love Again,” fall directly into this trap. The execution is flat, stripping away any potential for a lasting classic.
In the past, the Plain White T’s have reached the top of billboards with their soft rock and harmonious tunes. Yet for some reason, they decided to venture in an entirely different direction for this album. Glimpses of their past appear in the crisp and poignant vocals of “Someday You’re Gonna Love Me,” but their offbeat rhythms dampen these moments.
Without any real standout song, the album can only hope to pick itself up with some sort of binding feature that elevates it as a whole. The first track highlights the theme of the American teenage experience, fitting perfectly with its title, “American Nights.” Yet, this potentially uniting factor quickly degenerates into trite tales of lost love. Again, rather than conveying a sense of legitimate emotion, the music comes across as flatly generic. This persists all the way through the final track of the album, making it almost a relief to be done listening.
The missing substance, in terms of meaningful lyrics, at least allows the listener to focus on other elements of the musical composition. “Time to Move On,” one of the more effective tracks, places its emphasis on a flexible vocal performance, incorporating an underlying mix of drum and guitar beats. This allows the enjoyable and impressive fluctuations of the singer’s voice to be heard as opposed to being drowned out. In a way, this is closer to the soft rock method used to produce the band’s biggest hits.
Yet, this vocal prowess and subtle instrumental balance is lost in other songs that rely on seemingly ambiguous sounds. “Here Comes That Sunrise” begins with a trumpet intro that immediately dissipates and comes off as out of place. The transition into a boring beat for the remainder of the song only worsens the situation. The listener continually waits for the melody to intensify, but this wish never comes to fruition. Bits and pieces prove to be captivating for moments, but they do not maintain the feeling. With the interest of the listener teetering on the edge, achieving a consistent attentiveness over the course of a song, let alone the whole album, proves to be an arduous task.
Again trying to stray away from the methods of their past successes, the Plain White T’s lack relaxing tunes among their new collection. On past albums, a low-tempo track like “1,2,3,4,” or “Hey There Delilah” soothes the listener and connects one half of the album to the next. Choosing not to include this type of song is another glaring absence and mistake. In the band’s past work, songs that did not seem cohesive or were laden with sounds that didn’t quite mesh were offset by these lighter pieces.
All in all, “American Nights” by the Plain White T’s can be chalked up as a swing and a miss. The band’s attempt to change gears with an unfamiliar style of music, instead of sticking to its previous techniques, was its most pivotal pitfall. Snippets of vocals were able to remind the listener of the punk-pop band’s past successes, but they were few and far between. There still remains an opportunity for the Plain White T’s to rekindle their past prominence, but returning to their roots will be the immediate and necessary first step. Hopefully, “American Nights” will merely serve as a slight detour on the band’s path to restored prestige.