The Ataris - So Long, Astoria (Cover Artwork)

The Ataris

So Long, Astoria (2003)


Brenton Kenkel

After the Ataris signed to the big-name Columbia label (home to Aerosmith, John Mayer and Will Smith), many fans of the band wondered how the signing would affect the band's future. Unfortunately, So Long, Astoria is defined by its own overproduction and abandonment of any remaining punk ideals.

First, let me make it clear that So Long, Astoria is not a bad album. The melodies are catchy, and the lyrics aren't too bad, especially compared to those of other mainstream pop-punkers (if one can even give them that much credit) like Alien Ant Farm and blink-182. It wasn't a bad deal for six bucks, and eleven wouldn't be asking too much. But early (especially pre-End is Forever) fans will be disappointed in the change in style and production.

It's immediately clear that Kris Roe turned down the "punk" and blasted the "pop" in his recent songwriting. "In This Diary" first rips off the intro of NOFX's "Drop the World" and then launches into a preachy, probably fabricated rendition of Roe's childhood. It's a wonderfully crafted made-for-radio hit. "Summer '79" sounds tired and forced; the lyric "Let's create anthems of our own tonight" is especially ironic since the song is one of the Ataris' least original.

So Long, Astoria is also full of t-shirt-ready soundbites. "Life is only as good as the memories we make," Roe declares on the title track. It seems more condescending than insightful, and it sounds like the band has assumed its audience has lost five years of age since End is Forever (which might be a correct assumption if the major label thing works out the way they want it to). "Appreciate the good times, but don't take the worst for granted / 'Cause you only get so many second chances," Roe says in "Eight of Nine." Maybe he just didn't know how to end the song, so he plagiarized from a book of "inspirational" phrases. Or maybe he's just running out of things to say.

The coup de grace, however, is in "In This Diary": "Being grown up isn't half as fun as fun as growing up / These are the best days of our lives." Although it's probably not a bad idea to assume that most people picking up the Ataris at this point are 13 years old, lyrics like these are insulting to older veteran fans.

The general "growing up" theme seems confused considering that Anywhere But Here covered it to a far superior extent. Unlike So Long, Astoria, it was sincere and didn't seem like a condescending attempt to cater to a young teenage audience. And of course, there are other factors that affect the album as a whole: Kris Roe's vocal style has changed (at times he sounds like Johnny Rzeznik trying to be Dave Grohl), many riffs are "borrowed" from previous albums, and the musical tracks are layered ad nauseam. But these mean little in the face of the condescension and staleness of the tracks.

And on a personal note, the new version of "I Won't Spend Another Night Alone" -- my favorite Ataris song -- is an insult to the original. If some other band had done this album, it would be getting a better score. I admit that the Ataris have never been "pure" punk by any means, but the inferiority of So Long, Astoria compared to any of the past Ataris albums or recordings (especially the pre-remix Anywhere But Here and Blue Skies, Broken Hearts, Next 12 Exits) indicates that Kris Roe and company are either burning out or selling out.