Sadly, there’s not much separating Kelly Clarkson with Strike.Fire.Fall. Both artists won record contracts to their respective labels through a nationwide contest in which the winner is voted by a public majority. The former with "American Idol," the latter with Takeover Records' ‘Sign My Band’ contest in 2004.
This puts a bad taste in my mouth right from the get-go. There are thousands, upon thousands, upon thousands of bands that work their asses off every single day, playing shows in front of nobody, living off a few dollars a day for food, just in the hope of getting signed to a small, independent label. Now it’s not like SFF got signed to SONY, and will be touring in some luxury RV, but the general idea that they took a shameless shortcut is one that I can’t shake from my head.
I’ll try, however, to put any personal objections to this contest aside and judge the pop-rock upstarts just as I would anyone else. That said, in all likelihood, these guys have a solid career ahead of themselves. The ever increasing contingent of people who like Fall Out Boy and Panic! at the Disco-style pop-rock will no doubt be looking to purchase a copy of this record. It’s all there: catchy harmonies, nonsensical lyrics, and that indelible sense of happiness that permeates into every facet of the music.
I’ll give them credit, though: For every cliché they so readily embrace, there’s a moment or two of pure, unadulterated enjoyability.
And I’ll be damned if the two-part harmonies on “Stay Awake” didn’t have me hook, line, and sinker. Singer and guitarist Shawn Harrington does have a very honest, endearing quality to his vocals that most will surely appreciate, and that saves a few of these tracks from that rut of mediocrity that so many of the others fall in. “Stay Awake” even features some terrific guitar work from Chris Arotin, with some interesting riffing and quick but effective soloing, showing that he’s capable of more than such the same chord progressions in a different order.
The downfall here is the length. At 45 minutes, the album just overstays its welcome. For every one good song, there’s three sleep-inducing ones, and I could easily forsee the voice of the singer grating on some nerves. Put this in league with the ever-growing line of “it’s not bad…” albums, because the end result is 3 or 4 great songs on a record with fourteen tracks.
Take that as you will.