American Authors - Oh, What a Life
Record Label: Island Records
Release Date: March 4, 2014
Sometimes, this is all we need.
There’s nothing groundbreaking, earth-shattering or legendary about American Authors new album Oh, What a Life. In fact, the album is as predictable as they come, and yet even given that, it’s absolutely spellbinding.
Beginning with the ragged energy of the synth-tinged opener “Believer,” the quartet immediately stakes their claim as being 2014’s breakout band and the perfect cure to any rainy day. Sun-drenched, infectious and refreshingly optimistic, it’s a perfect song to welcome spring’s warmer weather. The band follows the same formula on the hyper-caffeinated “Think About It” and the ubiquitous and uber-catchy “Best Day Day of My Life.”
Arguably the strongest song of the disc’s first half is “Luck,” an autobiographical narrative in which vocalist Zac Barnett apologizes to his parents for being vacant and following too much in his father’s footsteps. Vocalist and songwriters for that matter are at their best when they are candid, unfailingly honest and open-hearted, and “Luck” falls squarely into those categories. Almost predictably, the quartet dives back into sun-kissed honey-pop on the breakup bopper “Trouble,” a song which vacillates between reedy, ruminative verses and a sprite, hip-shaking chorus. On the schizophrenic and cluttered “Hit It,” the band makes their first mistake, revisiting the same playbook as the song’s five predecessors and offering up nothing new or inspiring.
Thankfully, the erstwhile confessional “Home” steers the band back in the right direction. Though initially it starts off ordinary, the verses are absolutely titanic and some of the band’s strongest work to date. And then almost magically, Barnett pleads “I’m just trying to get home” before James Adam Shelly tears into a guitar solo, and then the song segues into a call-and-response outro and one of the more impassioned and memorable tracks by any pop band so far this year. The late summer vibe of “Love” sways like a hammock swing and has a breezy vernal vibe that makes it an amiable slice of filler. If the song has a silver lining it’s a hopeful look at hindsight that could probably speak to those still fretting and fuming over a bitter breakup.
From there however, the album offers very little save for the titular album closer. The jittery and propulsive cuts “Heart of Stone” and “Ghost” offers nothing to the album’s lasting impact and of all the eleven tracks are probably the biggest throwaways of the bunch. If the songs have a role it’s probably that they are live favorites and come alive on stage, but on this album they’re just ordinary and skippable. On the contrary, “Oh, What a Life” successfully marries earnest verses with percussive passion and a soaring chorus to make for one of the band’s best songs to date.
Probably the best thing about Oh, What a Life is how easily digestible, inoffensive and harmless it is. And sometimes that’s all it takes to get us out of a rut, a troubled spot or a dangerous situation. Being that this is the band’s first full-length, there’s plenty reason to think that their story is still not yet written. Given enough time and enough resources, this band could and probably will make a sizable dent in the pop charts in the months and years to come.