It’s difficult to know what to expect from a new album from The Get Up Kids. As much as Something To Write Home About is still heralded as an emo classic two decades after its release, but The Get Up Kids have become a very different band since then, particularly in their incorporation of new wave and post-punk sounds on their last full-length, 2011’s There Are Rules. That was a rather lukewarm album across the board at that, and while last year’s Kicker EP took some steps at moving towards their classic sound once again, that’s the only material they’ve released in the best part of a decade. Even with the singles from this new album feeling like a return to form, that’s hardly a definitive statement regarding Problems’ overall quality, if only because this is a band who’ve ultimately got more to prove in 2019 than just a couple of songs can account for. Legacy counts for something, certainly, but holding it up is a different matter entirely, and it’s something that The Get Up Kids don’t have a great deal of experience doing.
And really, it goes without saying that they’ve not totally grasped that on Problems. The best bands around struggle to do it more often than not, so it’s hardly surprising that The Get Up Kids’ first album in eight years can feel a bit lacklustre or as though it’s hitting the safer beats that one would expect from an older, slightlier rustier emo band. And in a way, it can be easy to accept that; there’s not a great deal of expectations going into this album, and the fact that not much is really delivered lands on a rough average overall. With that in mind though, this is still a fall from the band’s absolute best, and comparing the bright-eyed youthfulness of Something To Write Home About to this, a largely anonymous album that’s incredibly serviceable above anything else, feels like a fairly significant net loss overall.
But again, that’s not too big of a shock; this isn’t the first album to feel more or less compromised by the timeframe it was released in, and by the standards of examples like that, Problems is ultimately fine. Satellite and The Problem Is Me are still good assertions that The Get Up Kids can retain their rollicking, no-frills-required sense of verve when they want to, and Now Or Never is definitely good at capturing the sweetness and emo-pop exuberance that this band have always had in their locker thanks to a more tasteful and understated use of James Dewees’ keyboards. On the whole, the instrumentation and presentation fares pretty well, with a nice consistent chunkiness in the bass and guitar work remaining fairly constant while working with a grainier production style that’s more reminiscent of the ‘90s emo The Get Up Kids came up in without feeling like blatant nostalgia pandering. Factor in Matt Pryor’s nasal vocals that haven’t really aged beyond some slightly more bristly affectations, and from a sonic perspective, this is fairly tried-and-true album from this band. That’s far from a bad thing, too; clearly The Get Up Kids know how to make the most of a sound like this (especially when opposed to the directions that failed to materialise at all on There Are Rules), and it does feel like a band placing themselves back on the right track as a result.
But all of that is a remarkably generalised way to describe an album that should rightly have a far greater magnitude, but that simply isn’t the case here. This doesn’t feel like any sort of event, insomuch that this could’ve slotted roughly anywhere within The Get Up Kids’ mid-period material – or indeed, that of any other emo band around their age – and it would feel like an unassuming, unsurprising next step that, in the long run, won’t have any sort of effect either way. That isn’t inherently a bad thing either, but it feels lacking in the stakes that could’ve seen this album elevated to the level it should be at, not helped by a rather mundane thematic approach to ageing that, again, feels like such a standard template that an album like this should be doing more than. It’s not like it can’t work, but when everything blends together as much as it does here (to the point where their once-infallible hook-writing abilities feel severely diminished across the board), it can feel like the band simply trying to get something on wax as soon as they can. Sure, there’s a wistfulness that remains, mostly thanks to the vocals, but it’s hard to isolate anything else that truly stands out, especially when it’s this difficult to get into.
It’s not like that makes it terrible either, especially for The Get Up Kids fans who might be more accustomed to other emo bands taking this path, but compared to how quintessential this band has been in the past, ‘fine’ and ‘good enough’ don’t really fly. It makes this album feel like something of an afterthought, particularly when it’s come after such a fallow period and making its desire to return to the band’s original sonic well so known. It’s just a shame that it doesn’t quite pay off, and while there’s still passive enjoyment that can be had here, Problems sn’t going to be the album that bothers The Get Up Kids’ pantheon of work any time soon.
For fans of: Saves The Day, Jimmy Eat World, The Starting Line
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Problems’ by The Get Up Kids is released on 10th May on Big Scary Monsters.