Contrary to what their name suggests, The Summer Set‘s last album, Love Like This, was released in the fall of 2009, which is a shame considering how perfectly crafted the record was for the summertime. Full of huge choruses and lyrics about the less serious side of relationships, it was a bit mistimed and much more appropriate for the warmer months, though still a great debut pop record. A year and a half later, the band’s latest offering, Everything’s Fine, finds them progressing to become a bit more serious, in terms of both lyrical content and overall sound. While the songs on Love Like This were about a variety of girls, Everything’s Fine finds vocalist Brian Dales singing about one of them in particular. Though there is some fun to be had throughout the album, it’s not quite to the same extent that was found on the band’s debut. If you’re expecting a rehash of their previous work, you’ll be surprised to hear the route they took with the sophomore release.
From the opening strums of “About A Girl,” The Summer Set makes it very clear that this is not going to be Love Like This, Part 2. Much more subdued than the previous opener, the guitar parts show evidence of the band’s time spent covering Taylor Swift and as strings swell in before the chorus, they leave the impression that there was a great deal of time put into the writing of the record. The emphasis on the lower tom drums gives the chorus a big sound, creating a great dynamic counterpoint to the more intimate verses. Overall, it’s well-constructed with some nice metaphors throughout and is a good opening for the record.
“When We Were Young” plays like an ode to the band’s previous work, reflecting back on relationships past and how time changes everything. More straightforward than “About A Girl,” the track would find a comfortable place on Love Like This, and shows that they haven’t forgotten how to write a catchy chorus. Though the lyrics in the verses aren’t the strongest, the chorus is one of my favorites on the record and the bridge that flows out of it is powerful. My biggest gripe with this track is that the vocals are a bit low in the mix, making the song slightly less powerful.
When I first heard “Someone Like You” about two months ago, I wasn’t the biggest fan, but now that it’s in the context of the record, it makes a lot more sense to me. The track is very well-produced, and the drums in particular sound great. Though not as in-your-face as might have been expected, the hooks are as catchy as any from the debut, and it seems that every aspect of the band has improved, especially the vocals, even if the end of the chorus sounds a bit too much like Sugarland‘s “Stuck Like Glue.” In the bridge, Dales belts out some truly impressive notes, making you think that the rest of the song is a little one-dimensional in comparison.
The atmospheric “Back To The Start” sounds like it should be playing in a romantic comedy during a montage of two people who had some big fight but will ultimately get back together for a happy ending. The pre-chorus features some guitar tones that are pretty unexpected from this band, and the lyrics are reminiscent in a way that manages to be different from how “When We Were Young” was, in that they’ve got a bit more sadness behind them.
“Must Be the Music” is the only song on the album that sounds out of place, but only because it sounds too much like a Love Like This b-side with its upbeat tempo and lyrics like “who’s this monster in my bed?” and “man, this night is getting weird.” It’s the most summery song on the album, and it’s easy to see how they could have written another entire album with songs like this and been perfectly fine.
The strumming of “Thick As Thieves” quickly dispels any ideas of another song in the same vein. Though continuing with a beach-appropriate sound, it’s a completely different realm of pop music and fits better with the opening tracks of Everything’s Fine than “Must Be The Music.” The stomping and clapping in the song’s breakdown creates the image of some sort of party, and Dales takes that opportunity to let his vocals shine once again. Though somewhat catchy, the track pales in comparison to the following few songs.
“Mannequin” is the track that stuck out to me most on the first listen, and it’s still my favorite after a dozen more. The strings arrangement is top-notch, fitting in perfectly with the other instruments and making for the best kind of pop song. However, the thing that really sets this track apart is the honesty in the vocals. The lyrics are personal, but the inflection in Dales’ voice takes the words beyond their literal or metaphorical meanings and really makes them mean something. It’s the sort of performance that sets flavor-of-the-week pop bands aside from ones that possess a talent that people can actually connect to and want to hear more of. This is the song that pushes the band and album beyond the realm of “average.” The following track, “Mona Lisa,” is a simple love song that’s definitely more restrained than the previous few songs. With the line “I’ve never loved anything like I love you,” it’s easy to see how this could be a huge hit among the band’s core fan base.
The opening guitar part of “Begin Again” is similar to the one found in fun.‘s “Walking The Dog,” though the rest of the songs are rather different. This is another track that has its fair share of catchy vocal melodies, and the pause before the second chorus does a great job of breaking up the pop and reeling you back in. Though it’s a good song, it would have worked better at the front of the album, as it becomes slightly forgettable when it follows “Mannequin” and “Mona Lisa” and comes before “Love To You,” a track that finds pop perfection in the end of its chorus. I can’t believe that those words haven’t been spelled out with this melody before, because I can’t imagine anything better. The sounds of the letters flow so well together that that portion makes up for a song that is otherwise pretty mediocre (or maybe just mediocre in comparison).
The album ends with “Don’t Let Me Go,” a piano-driven song with lyrics that explore insecurities, but in an overall hopeful manner. The group singing from the middle and continuing until the end of the album gives a really “complete” sound to the track and shows the maturation and progress that the band has made between Love Like This and Everything’s Fine.
While the band’s debut was a great summer record, their sophomore effort seems like it is better suited for the transition to fall. Though it has its catchy hooks and a few dance-oriented tracks, it lacks the carefree attitude that every great summer album demands, and that is only a bad thing in that it means that this is not a summer album. The new level of maturity and thought that went into the album is something that I don’t think many would have expected from this band. There are a few parts that fall a bit short, but this is largely a very good album, pop in a new fashion with some powerful lyrics and at least one of my favorite songs so far this year in “Mannequin.” I look forward to listening to this album in September and getting the full effect of the seasonal change combined with the band’s musical change. Should be pretty great.