Nostalgia must be a lucrative industry; I mean, look at all those shitty t-shirts referencing things like Care Bears and My Little Pony worn by people who weren’t even around to experience them in the first place or those disgusting Michael Bay-directed "Transformers" movies. People out there must be absolutely fiending for a fabricated shared experience; that is the only way I can explain Four Year Strong’s collection Explains It All, which compiles '90s radio pop hits by the likes of Sugar Ray and Third Eye Blind.
Even though this isn't a proper album and, as such a thing like track list flow isn't as carefully attended to, FYS have picked the perfect opener for this collection in “So Much for the Afterglow,” which originally opened Everclear’s third album of the same name. Everclear were abandoning much of their grunge influence here for straight-up power-pop and the doo-wop vocal harmonization that ushers in the song is a good introduction to something that focuses on some of the more popular rock-pop bands of the '90s. Four Year Strong actually improve upon the original with better harmonization and add just enough punk grit to the poppy guitar progression that was hinted at in the original, making for some fantastic pop-punk. When they try to throw in slightly heavier riffs and drumming from their own hardcore influences, it, for the most part, works. I have to caution any raised expectations, however, because this is both the starting point and high point for the album, as the band never again seem to create anything that builds upon the original while paying respect so thoroughly.
Four Year Strong manage a unique feat on Explains It All -- they made me say the words “I feel like listening to Sugar Ray.” That is how bad the cover of their hit “Fly” with Gym Class Heroes is. It opens up with ad libs of, "I wish I had a sweet Jamaican accent cuz I’d say some real sexy shit right here." What does that even mean? It just ends up as sounding like mockery. The vocal delivery that pours on forced attitude and useless chugging guitar riffs rob the original song of of its summery good-time vibes and leaves you feeling like you walked in on the worst karaoke party ever. Stupid ad libs come up once again in the cover of Alanis Morissette’s “Ironic,” with the line "it’s like meeting the man of your dreams and then meeting his beautiful wife," the band adds in background laughter. It ruins an otherwise anomalous strong performance that sounds like a Sing the Sorrow-era AFI song, picking up on Morrisette and AFI’s melancholy in a rather unexpected way. I think it highlights a huge problem with the record in that a number of these songs feel like the band isn’t laughing with the original artists but laughing at them. It feels like stupid bullshit ironic covers, and an artist doing one of those as a B-side can be okay but a whole album is hard to swallow.
Artists like Ted Leo and Rock Plaza Central have paid homage to contemporary pop acts in ways that was sincere, taking the universality of those pop songs and infusing their ideas and style into them. Aside from “So Much for the Afterglow” and “Ironic,” the rest fo the album falls into two categories: bad and uninteresting. I’d say stick with the originals, or A New Found Glory.