You call your band Plain White T’s, you’re asking for trouble. I mean, it’s almost like sticking your head above the parapet and saying, “We’re bland. Bland, bland, bland.” They’ve been around a deceptively long time though – here come Plain White T’s, the band that gave the world the Grammy nominated frat-party anthem ‘Hey There Delilah’, with their sixth album. They promise that they’re in a “different place” to where they were circa ‘…Delilah’ and other notable hit ‘1-2-3-4’. Well, if ‘Wonders of the Younger’ is anything to go by, that place is…well…Liverpool; the influence of The Beatles over this record is never more than a Scouse second away.
The album ushers in on ‘Irrational Anthem’, its brief folksy intro (kissing cousin to ‘Hey There Delilah’) giving way to a Green Day-ish stomp. It sets the tone for much of the album – clean cut pop hooks, pristine production and clanging lyrics. ‘Boomerang’ flips a modern take on the Fab Four influence (yeah, it sounds a bit like ELO) but on ‘Welcome to Mystery’, Plain White T’s go the whole hog. Seriously – it’s like all the songs from ‘Sgt Pepper’ have been thrown up in the air, tossed together and given an American accent.
‘Map of the World’ briefly sets the pulse racing with some promising synth swirls, but quickly reverts to type, frontman Tom Higgenson pontificating about where he fits into the world (“Am I a dot on the map of the world?/Just a spot on the map of the world?” Er. Yeah. You are). ‘Killer’ is a loose washboard shuffle, containing a contender for lyrical howler of the year (“If I were a pirate, sailing the sea/Would you come and pillage the village with me?”) – but it has a certain spooked charm missing from much of the rest of the record. ‘Broken Record’ tightens things up again and turns up the rhythm, like Squeeze came from Lombard, Illinois not London.
From there on though, it’s downhill. ‘Our Song’ is about as inspiring as its title. ‘Airplane’ rhymes ‘fly’ with ‘sky’ and unforgivably inevitably ‘high’. ‘Cirque Dans La Rue’ is vaudeville, frilly pop (attempt at a 21st century ‘Mr Kite’?) and the closing title track brings things to what I’m sure was hoped would be a rousing, anthemic climax. Sadly, it’s more on the drowsy, anaemic side.
Look. It’s Plain White T’s. You weren’t expecting ‘Kid A’, and you’re not going to get it. This is album is catchy, glossy pop and had it been set free in the summer months it might have had a certain niche. At 14 songs, however, it’s overlong and those lyrics need serious work. With more conviction in the edit and more thought given to its verses, ‘Wonders of the Younger’ might have promised more. But, ultimately, in icy, sub-zero December, it is what it says on the cover. Plain. White. Tease.
Release Date 06/12/2010 (Hollywood Records/Island)