"I'm looking for a way to start again," sings John Cusimano in the song "Start Again" on his band the Cringe's third album Play Thing, "I hope that it's not too late." If Play Thing is the Cringe's attempt to start again, the band is doing it with 50-percent of its personnel replaced. Since 2007's Tipping Point, guitarist Robb Levin and bassist Matt Powers have departed, to be succeeded by James Rotondi and Jonny Matias, respectively. Shawn Pelton is still providing the propulsive drum playing, however, and the band remains a vehicle for the songs and singing of Cusimano, even if, unlike on the first two albums, the entire group is credited as songwriter of each tune. Their playing is sufficiently cohesive to suggest that they've been together for a while. The Cringe plays highly polished melodic hard rock. The band is co-credited as producer along with Rich Saccoliti, but a press release acknowledges the "input" of renowned producer Steve Lillywhite, and it's clear that the group is going for an arena-ready sound. Meanwhile, Cusimano applies his emotional vocal style to lyrics mostly narrated in the first person and addressed to a "you" who doesn't seem to fully appreciate what the singer is going through. Of course, there may be as many different "I" and "you" characters as there are songs, but taken together, they create a portrait of someone trying to get across somewhat conflicted feelings, seemingly to a significant other. "I don't want to be your poison," Cusimano sings in "Poison," "I just want to be your cure." To the extent that desire leads to fulfillment, maybe he will succeed, at least in artistic terms, since Play Thing presents a band seemingly ready for a breakthrough.
AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann