"Jukebox (Life Goes On)”
April 16, 2013 - Fearless
The last time we heard from the Summer Set, the Arizona quintet had effectively tendered their resignation from the Warped Tour universe, trading pogo-ready pop for a sound more fit for soccer moms. That’s not to say 2011’s Everything’s Fine was a bad album; in fact, it was quite the opposite—this writer even gave it four stars in AP 277. Everything’s Fine was mature, poised, and seemingly packed with hits that could have launched the band well beyond the reaches of the scene that bore them. But the album didn’t take with the mainstream crowd, the band moved onto Fearless Records and, somewhere in the interim, the Summer Set realized they weren’t quite ready to turn in their Lost Boys (and Girl) membership cards.
So in some ways, Legendary is a return to form for the Summer Set. Boasting both the swagger and sonic style of their debut, 2009’s Love Like This, the album is bursting with energy and booming beats. It’s hard to call this tie-loosening complete regression; after all, the one thing Everything’s Fine did lack with a more upbeat track or two. If anything, Legendary sounds like the proper follow-up to Love Like This, and, if you look past the Dawson’s Creek and How I Met Your Mother references, the album blends the maturity of Everything’s Fine with the freewheeling, sardonic spirit of their debut. And when the band employ the formula well, we’re left with expertly crafted pop songs that still carry some emotion (“Jukebox (Life Goes On),” “The Way We Were” and “Lightning In A Bottle,” all of which are among the group’s best songs to date and find Brian Dales doing what he does best: penning nostalgic, romantic vignettes).
Overall though, there’s a dearth of diversity. Nearly every song features the same towering beats (seriously, where have the live drums gone?) and things tend to blur together by the end of the album. Simply stripping away the electronic elements and breaking out an acoustic guitar here and there would make all the difference and give the record a little more personality. Look no further than the album-closing title track, which yearns for a more organic arrangement than the glossy treatment it ultimately received.
There’s little doubt in anyone’s mind at this point that Top 40 radio and mainstream stardom is the Summer Set’s end goal, and that’s perfectly fine. In the days of major label-manufactured acts, you could do a whole lot worse than a band who truly earned it themselves, slugging it out on van tour after van tour and playing amphitheater parking lots for what probably seemed like endless summers. Rooting against their success would be deplorable, but when the group take aim at the brass ring with a single like “Boomerang” (which name-checks Jay-Z and Beyoncé) and the vapid “Fuck U Over,” it feels a little too cheap—especially when a song like “Maybe Tonight” could seemingly take them over the edge on its own merit. Throughout their career, the Summer Set have shown their innate knack to craft a catchy hook without resorting to grabbing the low-hanging fruit in front of them. But if that’s how they want to play things this time around though, more power to them.