Bowling for Soup

The Great Burrito Extortion Case

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It's hard to dislike Bowling for Soup but it's hard to really be enthusiastic about them, either. They've been cranking out happy, hooky, humorous punk-pop since 1998, slowly crossing over into the mainstream without ever truly registering in the public consciousness the way that blink-182 did before them or Fall Out Boy did later. They've racked up a Grammy nomination and a genuine hit -- the quite clever "1985," a 2004 single that very well captured Gen-X's bewilderment at suddenly hitting their thirties -- but have managed to not quite be recognizable, a situation that their sixth album, The Great Burrito Extortion Case, is unlikely to change. At its core, it's not much different than what came before: it's still proudly goofy, poppy punk, stuff that's fun without quite being memorable. And while it's hardly worse than what they've done before, there is a subtle difference in tone on The Great Burrito Extortion Case: the group is seeming a little long in the tooth. It's not so much that they're reworking the same sound again and again -- they're a punk-pop band, so that kind of repetition is their stock in trade -- but their pop culture references seem a little shelf-worn and out of date, the product of a band that was in high school in the '80s. On "1985" that perspective helped craft the jokes, but here it's starting to wear thin, especially since there are multiple songs with John Cougar Mellencamp jokes that mingle with Joan Jett and Caddyshack references, making it all seem oh so 1985. (It also doesn't help that they have a song called "Val Kilmer" arriving a week after Kevin Federline bragged that he was like "Val Kilmer in how I'm bringing this heat," but you can't count this bad luck against them.) This kind of dated humor mingles with an increased juvenile sense of humor throughout the album, giving the impression that Bowling for Soup are pandering a little bit, trying to deliver what they believe today's teens want, but every once in a while they pull it all together -- the hooks and the humor gel into something like "High School Never Ends," which is catchy and contemporary, thanks to its Jessica Simpson and Tom & Katie jokes. And even when they're coming across like Gen-X cranks, they're still nimble and melodic, so it's easy enough to listen to The Great Burrito Extortion Case and enjoy it -- it sure is hard to get worked up about it, though.

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