The Ready Set

The Bad & the Better

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After a slight detour that involved switching record labels (Warner Bros. for Razor & Tie), the Ready Set's second album, The Bad & the Better, shows that Jordan Witzigreuter is still a highly skilled musical magpie, collecting all kinds of shiny things and whipping them into a modern bubblegum near-classic. Working with producer Ian Kirkpatrick again, he's crafted a bubbly, happy album that's built on emo-pop earnestness, and the open-hearted melodies that are part and parcel of that sound, but Witzigreuter also grabs huge handfuls of pop candy, like he was an unsupervised kid in a sweetshop. He surrounds his innocent vocals with hip-hop beats, dubstep drops, bro-folk acoustic guitars, Auto-Tuned banks of vocal harmonies, quiet storm synths, bleepy electronic squiggles, and bright piano flourishes, in the end sounding like a thoroughly processed and improved version of the kind of pop music from the late '90s personified by Sugar Ray, Smash Mouth, and the like. There's more R&B in the Ready Set mix, and it's a lighter-than-air mixture that threatens to float away at times, but it's that same kind of easygoing, very pleasing approach to music those bands had. There are no rough edges on The Bad & the Better, no jagged emotions, and no heavy lifting required at all; only upbeat, good-time pop. Songs like "Freakin' Me Out" and "Carry Me Home" sound like they could be on a One Direction album with no problem. Even the downer-y ballads, of which there are precious few, don't draw any blood; they are mere flesh wounds that only require a Hello Kitty bandage. If you're the kind of listener who needs deep thought or tricky musical passages in order to connect with an album, you are flat out of luck here. Witzigreuter isn't really interested in any of that nonsense; it's all AM pop giddiness, spunky energy, and soft-pedaled, cuddly heartbreak on The Bad & the Better. It's machine-driven, it's juvenile, and it's not going to change the world, but it's a bunch of fun and that's plenty.

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