Vanilla Sky

Changes

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People who only learned of Italian pop-punkers Vanilla Sky through their mischievous cover of Rihanna's smash hit "Umbrella" might be surprised that on Changes, their international debut, this supposedly signature song isn't included. The move makes perfect sense, however, since it wasn't "Umbrella" that got Vanilla Sky signed to Universal International. Rather, it was their infectious enthusiasm, catchy and energetic songs, and large European fan base built through hard-working ethics and years and of old-fashioned touring. Besides, by the time the record actually gets to "Umbrella," it seems a sort of knowing in-joke that's mildly funny, yes, but wholly unnecessary nonetheless. That's right; throughout Changes Vanilla Sky are strong enough to leave a good impression on their own, without relying on such gimmickry. There's no envelope-pushing of any kind to be found on Changes -- what Vanilla Sky do is play a rather simplistic brand of infectious pop-punk, with sunny hooks, huge choruses, and an occasional slight electronic flourish. But in their hands this tired genre comes thrillingly alive, infused with so much wide-eyed joyfulness that it becomes nearly irresistible. Besides, Vanilla Sky are thankfully devoid of any sort of pseudo-serious agenda which makes the work of so many of their peers seem heavy-handed. There's no social conscious critique à la latter day Green Day, no goth theatrics of My Chemical Romance, no MySpace-age irony of Fall Out Boy. There's just a plain good-hearted joy of being young and making music that you like. At 16 tracks, Changes may be a bit overlong (a couple of tracks presented in both Italian and English-language versions seem a nice, but unnecessary nod to their Italian fans), but that dilutes its impact only a little. Otherwise it's a near perfect pop-punk record that more than manages to make up in enthusiasm for its relative lack of inventiveness.

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