Wakefield – American Made

American Made

The cover makes me cringe. The washed-out high school athletic tee font logo isn’t exactly bursting with originality, but – for nostalgia’s sake – it can be overlooked. I’m less merciful, however, about the cover shot. I know you’ve seen it before. The band is in their rehearsal space overwhelmed – supposedly – by the intensity of their music. The string section is leaping in unison, donning their best hardcore punk poses while the unblinking camera eye captures them in all their spirited glory. It’s the sort of image that has been rehashed so many times in punk circles that it has long since lost its power to covey the desired emotion. Rather, for us more weathered souls, it is the lack of creativity and spontaneity that speaks volumes. So I’ll admit it was with some trepidation that I slipped it into the player, expecting the worst. And maybe that’s wrong of me; perhaps I’m not the ideal candidate to reviewing this sort of thing. After all, these boys haven’t yet reached their 20s, and it isn’t that what it’s all about when we’re young – raw urgency, unbridled energy, having fun?
Okay. I can accept that. What I couldn’t do throughout my foray into Wakefield’s debut CD, American Made, was shake the uneasy feeling that someone was trying to sell me something. This sort of radio-accessible, mass-appeal pop-punk has saturated the market for too long. The Blink 182’s, Sum 41’s, and Good Charlotte’s of this world have ceased being rebellious pranksters poking fun at the status quo. Instead they themselves have slowly become the status quo, MTV darlings in the same vein as Justin, Britney, and Cristina. Their adolescent antics increasingly seem less like acts of shameless irreverence and more like simple posturing. They have become, in a word – product.
At least Wakefield makes no pretense to the contrary. Opening with the bouncy, hook-heavy “Sold Out,” singer/guitarist Ryan Escolopio exclaims, “We’re in it for the money / and all the groupie honeys / we want your life / so we sold out.” Admittedly catchy and spring-loaded with irony, the song nonetheless conveys a simple message: “This is all in good fun. Don’t take us too seriously.’ The problem with bands that expect you to not take them seriously is that they too often get their wish. So what if they lack chops, vision, originality, and just about anything else that has to do with composing quality music? It’s much easier to distract listeners with personality than impress them with talent. Sure, songs like the debut single “Say You Will,” “Girls Rock Boys,” and “L7 (Medication)” are chock full of exuberant three-part harmonies containing more sugar than a Jolt cola factory. But the derivative three-chord riffs and spiraling melodic leads are dull and uninspired. “Un-Sweet Sixteen” is probably their best work, beginning with some dynamic and driving guitars similar to Foo Fighters, but the song leads nowhere, eventually drowning in its own lazy repetition. And there is simply no excuse for the sappy melodramatics of the emo-ish “Heaven’s Coming” and “Honesty.”
Truth be told, I don’t see Wakefield breaking out into the masses. For the time being, I believe our radio waves are safe from this drudgery. But I’ve been wrong before and I’ll be wrong again. By this time next month, Wakefield mania may have taken hold, with “Say You Will” vying for a position as genuine summertime anthem. Music is supposed to be about what you bring to the table, not how well you can ape your heroes and peers. The boys in Wakefield have shown they have sharp instincts for crafting the occasional memorable hook, but musically they are as innovative as sliced bread. This is carbon-copy crapola worthy of the bargain bin at your local record store. Steer clear of this one.