When the World Comes Down

The Baltimore Sun

The All-American Rejects

[DGC/Interscope] **

Tyson Ritter, the singer and bassist of the All-American Rejects, is 24 now. Two years ago, he said in an interview that he had seen only four concerts in his life, other than ones he'd played in. It's best not to believe a handsome rock star from Oklahoma when he says something like that - it's like saying he was raised by wolves - but the claim seems to fit his band's kind of rock-ribbed emo.

The band's third album, When the World Comes Down, isn't striking obscure poses, inventing slang or playing with the audience through distancers like tension and distortion. It's completely clear and even traditional pop music, but those over 16 will likely have no use for it

The All-American Rejects lie somewhere between two American energies: Radio Disney and the Warped Tour. To map them a little more, they're power-pop, but still quite a distance even from starter punk. They have nothing to do with black pop or dance music, and they probably don't have fantasies about the Clash and rock authenticity. But they have learned from U2's anthemic sound, and they seem to have found their way to the new wave of Elvis Costello and Dexy's Midnight Runners. They've got a few more amperes of snarl than the Jonas Brothers (though Ritter comes from the same stylized-frustration vocal school as Joe Jonas) and not nearly as many as Fall Out Boy.

What they've got is good instincts for verse-versus-chorus songwriting, hormones and a crucial pinch of smugness. "I wanna I wanna I wanna touch you/you wanna touch me too," Ritter sings with cocky assurance on the album's first track; but a few lines later the words that should be the most biting - "our love's the perfect crime" - disappear in self-satisfaction.

This band has been smug before, as on "Dirty Little Secret," from 2005, its first significant hit, a memorable and clever piece of mixed-messaging. But now, either when smugness is the desired point ("Gives You Hell") or not ("Mona Lisa"), it's built into the music, with chord changes you can see coming from 20 paces. And, ultimately, Ritter's overwrought-deadpan singing presents a single emotion: It's a defensive sort of cool.

New York Times News Service

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