The first time I encountered Mêlée, it came via the Hopelessly Devoted to You Vol. 5 comp, featuring the tracks “New Day” and “Francesca.” I thought it was the most refreshing thing I’d heard in years. A few months later, I saw them open for Motion City Soundtrack and thought it was the most pathetic attempt at trendy indie rock I’d ever seen. For the most part, Devils and Angels falls right in between the two extremes.
For some reason I feel like I should start by pointing out that this band thanks “Tom and MySpace” in their liner notes, but for now I’ll look past the minutia. The biggest problem with Devils and Angels is self-evident in its promotional write-up: “Influenced by the songwriting classicism of piano men Elton John, Coldplay's Chris Martin, and neo-soul star John Legend, Mêlée present their own style of carefully crafted melodic pop on Devils & Angels, the quartet's debut album for Warner Bros. Records, which will be released on April 3rd. The songs, which range from driving pop-rock anthems to uplifting power ballads, are characterized by solid hooks, lilting melodies, and frontman Chris Cron's soaring vocals and expressive piano-playing.” That’s right, instead of the gooey post-punk of their Hopeless debut Everyday Behavior, they’ve resorted to what the radio industry would call “soft rock.”
While it’s true the album isn’t entirely of acoustic guitars and pianos, it certainly doesn’t lean heavily in any other direction. In fact, the first track and subsequent single “Built to Last” is a fairly accurate microcosm for the album as a whole. Cron’s vocals, the wistful melodies crafted, and hopeless romantic lyricism stand out as highlights, while the compositions and instrumentation are noticeably toned down throughout. Save for the upbeat “Frequently Baby (She’s a Teenage Maniac”) -- which astonishingly blends a determinedly `80s melody with boppin’ Golden Age rock & roll and introduced through a post-punk frame -- there’s no musical teeth on Devils and Angels. Bland song after bland song, “Love Carries On” after “Can’t Hold On,” the second half finally gets a bolt of energy with the acoustic pop-punk of “Biggest Mistake” and group shouts of “Oh! Oh no! She’s my biggest mistake.” However, by the next track, Mêlée are doing their best Maroon 5 impression on “You Got” and singing “You got what I’m looking for / I got what you came here for / You got what I need.”
You really can’t call this a bad album because it’s just so damn mediocre. There are some incredibly catchy songs, even among those that seem made more for sleeping than rocking. And like all Sub City bands, portions of the proceeds go to a good cause, in this case Orangewood Pals and their work with abused and neglected children. So like some of the better tracks on Devils and Angels, props are given where they’re due, but it’s still clear Mêlée can do better.