There was a time when pop-punk was a dynamic and exciting part of popular music. Unfortunately that time was 2001. The intervening ten years has not been kind. Much like my beloved Brit Rock, the genre was quickly swamped by a legion of manufactured cut-out bands which record labels foisted upon the audience in the hopes of turning a quick profit before the whole scene died out. But it didn't die out. Instead pop-punk, as well as the closely related genre of power-pop, was kept alive by networks like the Family Channel, Nickelodeon and the Disney Channel. Outlets with a direct line to the lucrative tween market. An audience the genre is tailor made to target. The music is harder than most modern pop but very often still very family friendly. Loud but not overly rebellious. Banal angst, the emotional bread and butter of most middle class teenagers, is at this point built into the genre's very ethos.
Formed in 1997, before the pop-punk boom time, Yellowcard could be considered a member of the genre's old guard. A more apt description would be that they are a high school band which never broke up. That can be the only explanation for why the band's songs still sound like they were written by a heart broken sixteen year old. Even though most of Yellowcard's members are two decades out of their teens. I'm sorry but there is something extremely disingenuous about someone in their 30s singing about how fast summers fly by in a song imaginatively titled “Be The Young.” And no, the song isn't some kind of reflection of a bygone youth. It is written in the present tense. I feel old just listening to this album and I'm seven years younger than singer Ryan Key!
I'm going to resist the urge to tear apart this album just long enough to concede this very important point: Yellowcard's members are all talented musicians who are very good at what they do. However that's not the problem with this album. The problem with When You're Through Thinking, Say Yes (aside from the terrible title) is that it's a generic, over-produced festival of repetitive drivel. This album has no soul!
The music sounds exactly like that of every other pop-punk band you've heard before. The slightly melodic rapid fire guitars. The barely noticeable bass. Ryan Key even possesses the same keening tone almost every other pop-punk leader singer in history has possessed. A youthful sounding and pitch corrected. Shouting out his angst to the world and that girl in math class who never noticed him. The one noticeable difference between Yellowcard and their contemporaries is the presence of violinist Sean Mackin. It's kind of their claim to fame. Credit where credit is do, Mackin plays a mean pop violin. But he's not the best I've ever heard and the band don't make nearly enough use of him in their arrangement. It is never really the centrepiece instrument because the generic, heavily engineered pop-punk guitar riffs never fail to drown it out. It's a fanciful garnish to otherwise bland music and a waist of Mackin's talent. The lyrics range from okay to laughably sub-par to oddly inappropriate (the aforementioned “Be The Young”). There are songs about new love.(“With You Around”) There are songs about break-ups. (“For You, And Your Denial”) There is even a road trip song! (“Life Of Leaving Home”) It's all so horrendously generic and safe, it's almost funny. The composition is even worse! The same two songs played ad infinitum: One fast, one slow.
Mediocrity this spectacular requires drastic action. Yellowcard! Listen up! Whatever it is that's holding you in your current style get rid of it. Maybe it's your label. Maybe it's your manager. Whatever it is, get rid of it and go in a different direction. For God's sake boys this is your seventh studio album! Go a little nuts. You're a talented bunch, I think some heavy experimentation could pay off. Hell you've already got the violin, go Celtic for all I care! Just do something besides what it is you're doing now. Because it's forgettable pablum. Assembly line bullshit that isn't worth it even in the name of nostalgia.