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September 28, 1999

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So much has been written by reviewers (and in profoundly disparate publications) about the forthcoming industry commodification of "emo bands" that it hardly seems worth talking about -- even with the advent of the album which most have preliminarily noted as having the greatest potentiality to spark such an event. I am, of course, talking about the new Promise Ring album -- an album that comes replete with a bevy of discourse about this phenomenon (the commodification of the underground) and of the "emo" genre.
This band gets props from such unlikely sources as Sin and Gear. Most of the talk seems to come back to Matt Pinfield liking them (and playing their video a couple times) as well as the marketability of "emo" as "the next big thing." So the band has been tagged -- much to their chagrin -- an "emo band."
Moreover, they have become synonymous with the term, although they have little to do with "emo" and have nothing invested in its surfacing (except, perhaps, monetarily). The band has remained pretty realistic about it, having elected, at one time resolutely, to stay on their indie label Jade Tree.
But while I'm sure some major-label guru in a Porche is indeed out searching for a Sunny Day Real Estate for the masses, that is not what they'll get here. The new album sounds somewhat like Weezer, or some other pop band that they're much better than.
Though I'll concede it is a little weepy eyed, lachrymose pop is nothing new. This is pop music, very simply, and it has more to do with Sugar than it does Hoover (or Cap'n Jazz for that matter). So for now, "emo" will have to stay underground, where, ironically, it doesn't really exist.
Thankfully, the album transcends the hype. It probably won't disappoint you unless you walk around calling yourself an "emo kid" and claim that they sold out (something I don't even want to touch). So "emo kids," put down your backpacks, graphic design tools and hamfisted song progressions and enjoy pop perfection the way you always knew the Promise Ring could serve it up. Just don't expect your pop fix to last very long (35 minutes), as perhaps it shouldn't. Producer J. Robbins' tincture (or lack thereof) makes for stripped-down pop, crunchy and warm. The music is familiar without being boring -- a hallmark of good pop.
"The Deep South" might be the best track, exemplary of the Promise Ring's euphoric choruses, which seem to go on forever. You'll know all the lyrics to the album after the first close listen. "Jersey Shore" is weird departure from the formula, but a fun one, displaying their ability to create so much with so little. A couple songs on here are just silly, even awkwardly so, such as "Happiness Is All The Rage."
And, of course, a couple are thoroughly depressing (see: "Things Just Getting Good"). The album sounds very little like its predecessors, but is still part of a logical continuum (check out the Boys + Girls EP for the missing link to their past). I hesitate to offer this, but I believe that this band (still) has not lived up to its potential. Certainly, they're getting there, but this album is only slightly more "complete" than the last. They seem to have changed their style up (presumably so as not to get stagnant) only to find themselves starting the project over. For these reasons, I don't think they're quite ready for MTV-style fame...yet.

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