It's hard to badmouth a band generous enough to turn over a track on their first major-label album to another group who happen to be their friends, as the Muckrakers do with a (barely) hidden track tagged onto the end of 2005's Front of the Parade. And with Front of the Parade as evidence, the Muckrakers sure seem likeable as all get out -- the songs are bright and tuneful, the playing is sharp and cleanly executed, Rob Carpenter's lead vocals are all winsome sincerity, and the production adds a clean layer of polish to their performances. Front of the Parade is almost aggressively competent, but that virtue is also the Muckrakers' Achilles' heel; as craft, this music is polished and professional, but the material lacks a needed soul and personality. Sounding like a cross between Barenaked Ladies and Matchbox 20 with a dash of Dave Matthews for seasoning, Front of the Parade is the sound of fresh-scrubbed college students playing sincere and energetic pop music that never rocks too hard, and even the hip-hop breakdown in "When the Morning Comes" is clean, spunky, and well-mannered. But while the Muckrakers sound like they'd be fine roommates (bet they'd never be late with the rent and always do their dishes), this album never gets out of emotional or musical third gear, and the sameness of the Muckrakers' 12 songs begins to wear long before the album is over. There's nothing wrong with Front of the Parade, but that's part of the problem -- for all the obvious talent on display there are precious few chances taken, and one senses a bit of grit and tension in the right places would do the Muckrakers a world of good.
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming
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