On A Wire

The Get Up Kids

Vagrant Records, 2002

REVIEW BY: George Agnos

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 07/18/2002

I've always felt that putting labels on music is sometimes detrimental to the actual art of making music. I understand why it's done: to give the audience an idea of what is the sound of the music. However, it also puts a straitjacket on musicians that want to explore sounds that are outside the label they were given.

A good example of this is the latest CD from The Get Up Kids, On A Wire. The Get Up Kids have been given the label of being an "emo" rock band. To give you a quick and simple definition, emo is punk rock made by sensitive guys. In other words, emo may sound like punk but the songs are usually about heartbreak. Well, On A Wire has a lot of songs about heartbreak, but instead of fast, guitar-driven emo, the songs are mostly midtempo and have a more mainstream rock sound. When a band changes their sound, usually some longtime fans don't like it, and nbtc__dv_250 On A Wire is no exception to this rule.

The first song, "Overdue", immediately establishes that this isn't emo. Not many rock bands start albums off with a ballad, but here it works very well. This gentle track begins with a sparse acoustic guitar before the bass, drums, and a whisper of electric guitar eventually join in. But the subject of this song is not at all gentle as it is about a father returning to his son after a 24 year absence.

The second song, "Stay Gone", ups the tempo and is very much a rock track, but it is less emo and more in a mainstream classic-rock mode with its melodic electric guitar riffs. It's a very good song that pretty much typifies the sound and attitude of most of On A Wire.

That's not to say that the songs on On A Wire all sound alike. There is some variation: "Grunge Pig" is probably the hardest rocking song on the CD, although despite its title, it sounds more like a hard rocking Weezer track than anything by Nirvana or Pearl Jam. There is also the Beatlesque "All That I Know", the alt-countryish "Wish You Were Here" (not the Pink Floyd song) and the indie rock of "Campfire Kansas" which sounds like a lost Guided By Voices track.

Veteran producer Scott Litt produced On A Wire, and that probably accounts for the feel of this CD. He produced R.E.M.'s albums from the late eighties and early nineties, and On A Wire sounds pretty much like R.E.M. from that period, albeit with more straightforward songs. I like the additions of keyboards on the second half of the CD consisting of mostly piano, but also an organ on "The Worst Idea", and what sounds like a mellotron on "All That I Know".

I don't want to give Litt too much credit here. I presume he was hired to give The Get Up Kids the sound they wanted, and it is important to note that the band sounds perfectly comfortable and downright confident with their change of direction. One mistep though: "Fall From Grace" sounds a bit awkward as if the band couldn't decide whether to make it grungy or to soften it up. Also, Matthew Pryor's vocals seem to be straining on this one.

I feel On A Wire is overall a smashing success because the band sounds great, the songs are melodic, and the lyrics are thoughtful. In the end, I think it is unimportant if this release fits the label that The Get Up Kids were given, and more important that they are creatively at the top of their game.

Rating: A-

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© 2002 George Agnos and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Vagrant Records, and is used for informational purposes only.