Desperate for a story in these lean times for rock, the mainstream music
press has been wasting precious trees playing up a new, insurgent "emocore"
movement, a hybrid of hardcore-punk ethos and sensitive-guy pathos.
Among the bands lumped into this somewhat amorphous genre is Wisconsin's
the Promise Ring but don't be fooled by the label. Very Emergency,
the quartet's third full-length album, is pure power pop and has nothing
to do with punk rock, unless you consider Weezer to be punk rock. Which
you probably shouldn't.
In an alternative (read: better) universe, commercial radio would be
crawling with gems like the ones that make up Very Emergency. Like
fellow young Midwestern upstarts the Get Up Kids, the Promise Ring offer
supercharged, melodic rock that sounds best blasting out of car stereo
And just as the Get Up Kids have taken a deliberate step towards mainstream
acceptance with their new release, Something to Write Home About,
the new Promise Ring album is more crafted and polished than 1997's
Nothing Feels Good. From the infectiously upbeat opening track,
"Happiness Is All the Rage" (RealAudio
excerpt), the emphasis here is on catchy hooks, deft lyrical turns
of phrase and maximum hummability over volume, although there is no shortage
of churning guitars. Lead singer Davey von Bohlen pulls off lines like
"We could do more outdoor things/ If we weren't so busy getting busy"
perfectly, establishing, in the album's early moments, the band's penchant
for writing pop songs that are as smart as they are sugary.
Just as addictive are such songs as the Cars-influenced "Skips a Beat
(Over You)" (RealAudio
excerpt), pseudotitle track "Emergency! Emergency!," "Living
Around" and "Arms & Danger." The band also shows some impressive versatility,
slowing the pace for "Things Just Getting Good" (RealAudio
excerpt) and the album closing "All of My Everythings," proving
that pop ballads can be sweet without being histrionic Goo Goo Dollsstyle
Although the very word "pop" has come to take on an almost derogatory
meaning in indie-rock circles, von Bohlen clearly isn't afraid to wear
his top-40 influences on his sleeve, and this record is a shining testament
to that. It's enough to make one think that modest but heartfelt records
such as Very Emergency might actually come within striking distance
of the top 40 someday. But that might be too much to hope for.