Problems there are, and far too many
Problems is The Get Up Kids’ first full release in a long time, eight years to be exact. With time comes knowledge, experience and above all else, change. These are the things that one expects to hear on the new record. One anticipates to hear a band marked by maturity and assurance. They’ve had eight long years to learn from their mistakes, to understand their capabilities and to use the muse of adult life as a source of intent, development and reformation.
Instead, however, we see a band too scared to push boundaries and break familiarity. Granted, it is never an easy undertaking for a band to recalibrate and find the incentive to do so after so long, and this is something which The Get Up Kids should undoubtedly be congratulated for. Longtime fans will also certainly be overjoyed by their reunion, but one cannot overlook the many downfalls of this record. The Get Up Kids have given us an album much too similar to the sounds of their past. If anything, the record is a meager attempt at something new though not backed by the confidence and conviction a band 24 years down the line is supposed to have.
Guitarist/vocalist Jim Suptic said in a recent interview with Stereogum, “I’m 41 now, I could never write a song like when I was 19—all those ‘I miss my girlfriend’ kind of songs. It’s always important for us to write about wherever we are right now.” This insight really is hard to believe when you listen to Problems from start to finish. Where is that progression, that awareness? The lyrics may come from a group of veterans trying to navigate age and responsibility, but what they say really means nothing in the context of the music. The album sounds like the soundtrack to a low budget, teenage rom-com and even the style of the music and vocals seems as if it is still aimed at emo-teens looking for a good headbang.
Unfortunately, the reality is that the teens who once listened to The Get Up Kids are no longer teens, and they are most probably listening to Michael Buble and Adele now. Tracks like ‘The Problem is Me” and “Now or Never” are mere recreations of their earlier sounds, and while their music was hugely relevant and important during the mid ’90s and early 2000s, the music of today is ever changing and any musician knows how important it is to be aware of those shifts.
The album is largely dominated by relentless pop chords and vocals on the verge of whining. It’s overly emotional, and the whole thing seems fake. There is also little to no variation between the composition of the individual tracks. The record’s opening songs are only successful in the sense that they grab our attention and leave us wanting more. “Symphony of Silence” has some nice riff arrangements paired with interesting melodies, and “Lou Barlow” has an energetic bass line that brings a surge of life back into the album. However, the middle of the record takes a real dip into mediocrity.
By the time we arrive at the final song, “Your Ghost is Gone,” little hope is left, so it’s a genuine surprise when we are finally given something refreshing. The track is a sparse piano ballad with a focus placed on the vocals, and it proves that The Get Up Kids do have the potential to create mature, confident music. It is treated with an endearing kind of sensitivity and a deliberate arrangement. It is the first taste of real emotion on the record. The bridge section of the track is a standout off the entire album, as it dives into a one-minute instrumental jam session. There is development in the composition and harmony between the instruments. It really could be the start of something good and hopeful for The Get Up Kids.
Unfortunately though, for the time being, and as frontman Matt Pryor confessed in the same interview for Stereogum, “we’re still so connected to our past and where this all came from.” They may be too connected, with not enough focus on the future.