The origins of this EP feel very in-keeping with the brand that Derek Sanders has built for himself as an artist. The whole project began life with a cover of But Lauren by Goodbye Love that he recorded for his wife for Valentine’s Day in 2017, which, given the very saccharine, outwardly lovestruck nature of a lot of his work in Mayday Parade, seems like a rather natural following point. The nature of My Rock And Roll Heart bears a similar familiarity as well, as a stripped-back collection of covers from 2000s pop-rock and emo that Mayday Parade have always been a cleaner half-step away from, and that Sanders himself has often steered towards in terms of timbre and artistic persona. The deliberately small scale of it all really only compounds the notions of little more than a fan project, but the potential for something solidly workable is at least there.
The caveat with all of that, though, is that My Rock And Roll Heart is worth going into with any sort of expectation, and that generally doesn’t seem to be the case given how thin the final product can be. It’s not necessarily bad in the vein that Sanders feels almost impossibly deep within his wheelhouse throughout, but that also begs the question of where an EP like this – a covers EP that’s keeping its ambitions on a bubbling simmer at the very most – would go without a known name attached. Because on the whole, My Rock And Roll Heart doesn’t do much of anything besides present itself as a cute novelty, and while that’ll be enough for some, it’s not the foundations that a fruitful solo career is built upon.
That being said, it’s definitely easy to see who this is designed to appeal to, and in those stakes, the appeal is there. For an audience like Mayday Parade’s that’s primarily younger, this might be the first exposure to these songs that they’ve had, and in transposing them to a slim but polished acoustic formula that wouldn’t be unexpected from a Mayday Parade ballad, it’s not like there’s no worth here at all. The easy highlight comes in the rendition of Jimmy Eat World’s A Praise Chorus with its quicker strums and deeper piano rooting, making it able to sink into its acoustic reworking without sounding lacking or rote. Conversely, there’s some of the vitriolic spite lost in the lyrics of Saves The Day’s Rocks Tonic Juice Magic when unplugged and given a middling ballad cadence that doesn’t benefit at all, and while Something Corporate’s Punk Rock Princess has the boon of familiarity from being included in Mayday Parade’s live set, the opportunity to give it a more imaginative rearrangement on record that hasn’t been taken is disappointing. At least as a pair of simpler, more earnest love songs, But Lauren and The Juliana Theory’s August In Bethany are both alright, but even then, the problem of there simply not being much to gravitate towards still arises, and it becomes even easier to realise how disposable My Rock And Roll Heart feels overall.
It’s tough to see how that could’ve been gotten around either, especially when, even in the context of his own band, Sanders has rarely been the sort of compelling force that hinted a blossoming into a solo career. He’s able to capture both trembling emotion and easygoing contentment in his vocals, and that can be a nice safety blanket for a sound that relies on that sense of familiarity, but it places a rather firm limit on where he’s capable of going in the ranks of singer-songwriters that are indeed doing more interesting things. The fact that this is exclusively a covers project doesn’t help, but co-opting the same sandblasted production that beleaguers Mayday Parade at their most milquetoast just highlights how little of a disconnect between the two there is, and besides paying homage to a crop of songs that Sanders clearly loves, there’s no tangible reason for an EP like this to even exist. It’s not really adding to the conversation, and even if it’s competently executed and put together, it’s not like the originals of these songs are really going anywhere.
And even then, it’d still be difficult to call this a vanity project, because it’s so unassuming that there’s precious little to actually be vain about. Even with as generally harmless as it is, My Rock And Roll Heart really doesn’t come to the party with much to offer, with a lack of originality on all fronts that’s holding it back from achieving much of anything. The diehard Mayday Parade fans might find something to like here, but beyond the novelty and a set of covers that aren’t anything too special, it’s the sort of thing that’ll likely fade away in record time. The sweet sentiment at its core is nice and all, but that shouldn’t be expected to save the entire EP when it’s as largely middling and mediocre as this.
For fans of: Mayday Parade, Nevershoutnever, Andrew McMahon
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘My Rock And Roll Heart’ by Derek Sanders is released on 14th February on Rise Records.