By Sean Calhoun

While I’ve covered a lot of different genres on this blog, one that I’ve avoided up to this point is country music (partly because I was interested in other bands, and partly because I’ve never been a country fan). That changes this week, as I kick off my 2006 entry with…

Me And My Gang – Rascal Flatts


I haven’t regularly listened to country music since elementary school. Even then, it wasn’t a conscious choice – my bus driver would always have the radio tuned to what was then KTWB 101.9 Sioux Falls, so that’s what I heard. Between those bus rides and the release of Disney’s Cars in 2006, I remember hearing a lot of Rascal Flatts over my last couple of years of elementary school.

Specifically, I heard “What Hurts The Most” – over and over and over again. It was an absolute smash hit on country radio upon the release of this album. I think that, at least for a while, I was a fan of the song. It’s got a reasonably heartfelt vocal performance and it’s really not that bad musically.

Even though I’m not a country music fan, I was rather excited to take a trip down memory lane with this particular album – the title track is another one that I heard several times on the way to and from school, and a couple of other tracks jogged my memory too. Unfortunately, a couple of tracks in, I started to realize something – almost all of these tracks basically sound the same.

Perhaps symptomatic of pop-country as a whole around the middle of the decade, pretty much everything on Me And My Gang is heavily formulaic. The tracks are basically pop songs – some ballads, some pump-up tracks, some inspirational numbers – with some “countrified” instrumentation and a few loose lyrical references to “good old boys” and those types of things. Switch out Gary LeVox for one of any number of pop vocalists of the era, and I’m not sure that the album would be all that different than what Rascal Flatts ended up with (outside of the removal of a little bit of admittedly enjoyable Southern drawl).

I wish I could take more positives out of this album – I really do – but there’s just not a lot of substance here. LeVox does an admirable job, and the instrumentation is competent if not particularly inspired, but it’s really not enough to overcome the homogeneity of the production and the content.

Score, Adjusted for 2017 Ratings Inflation: 4.7/10


I’ve listened to a lot of pop-punk over the last few years, and it’s gotten me into other genres as well – emo, post-hardcore, and even some metal. The next album up for 2006 is one of those albums that exists in a bit of a transitional state between all three of these genres…

Decemberunderground – AFI


I’ve always enjoyed the bands on the heavier side of pop-punk and emo, including acts that could occasionally cross over into harder genres like post-hardcore and screamo. My Chemical Romance, Hawthorne Heights, and other similar bands have been a staple of my Spotify history for years now.

Decemberunderground is, onstensibly, another genre that falls into this “in-between” space. Musically, AFI sounds like a mix between MCR and early Silverstein here, which would seem to fall cleanly into my sphere of enjoyment.

There’s a slight problem here, though, and it’s a balance that’s difficult for acts like this to properly strike – the border between self-seriousness and self-parody. A band like My Chemical Romance, while dealing with heavy subject matter, understood that moments of levity were necessary to balance out the angst, and that’s a key component that AFI misses here.

This album takes itself very seriously. Davey Havok’s lyrics and vocals are, more or less, devoid of humor, which makes the music significantly darker than it has to be. It almost comes across as a parody of the genre at times (as did Havok’s personal visual aesthetic at the time – see his hair and outfit in the “Miss Murder” video) and, paradoxically, makes the album far more difficult to take seriously.

On a more positive note, it’s a pretty musically proficient album. The guitar and percussion work is solid, as is Havok’s voice, apart from the occasional “dark” affectation that he tries to put on (which just makes him sound kind of ridiculous). “Miss Murder,” the album’s big single, is a defining song of the mid-2000s theatrical emo scene (maybe not quite to the degree of something like “Welcome To The Black Parade,” but not too far off either).

If it seems like I’m bringing My Chemical Romance up a bit too often in this review, it’s because they serve as a reminder of what AFI could have been here. Havok basically sounds like a humorless, C+ version of Gerard Way, and while there are a lot of musical similarities, there’s just a certain disappointing flatness present throughout Decemberunderground.

Score, Adjusted for 2017 Ratings Inflation: 5.0/10



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