Forever the Sickest Kids

Underdog Alma Mater

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The ultimate goal of a debut album should be to set a band apart from its peers, but it appears that Forever the Sickest Kids have missed that point with Underdog Alma Mater. The album presents Forever the Sickest Kids as decidedly average, with nothing that makes them stand out from fellow punk-pop/emo groups other than a slightly brighter sound. True, not every band can come out with groundbreaking works right out of the gate, but Underdog Alma Mater has a rote, paint-by-numbers feel that doesn't bode well for a premiere, instead giving the illusion that the bandmembers are either trying too hard to sound like their contemporaries, aren't sure how to set themselves apart, or just don't have anything unique to contribute musically. The most obvious example is lead singer Jonathan Cook, who bases his delivery, intentionally or not, on that of Panic at the Disco's Brendon Urie. It's unfortunate if it's mere coincidence, but indefensible if it's a deliberate imitation -- what's to be gained if Cook and the rest of the band are content to follow the lead of groups that have gone before without treading new ground or finding their own niche? It leads to songs like "She's a Lady," a bad relationship ditty that sounds like it could be an outtake from any number of groups (albeit one with a whining chorus and bland verses), or "Coffee Break," a tune that is melodramatic nearly to the point of parody as it wrenches every last bit of angst from verses about over-connected youth ("I'm turning my cell off just to breathe/'Cause everyone I know just keeps calling me"), anxiety about growing up, and even the worry that "my mom hates my guts." Other times, as on "Breakdown," the group merely sounds bored and unenthusiastic, making for a song that is consequently tedious and seems to last twice as long as it actually does. There are occasional bright spots, like the light and bouncy "Uh Huh," but they're not enough to make up for what amounts to a shallow debut that shows Forever the Sickest Kids' talent for appropriation, not originality.

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