Capital Lights was somewhat of a small-scale sensation when they emerged on the scene with their 2008 major-label debut This Is an Outrage (They previously had an independent presence under the name After Eight). Their catchy, lighthearted pop punk style was hardly innovative, but it was tight, infectious, and simply good, clean fun. Much to everyone's disappointment, however, the band announced they would be breaking up a mere year after the release. This left fans wondering what could have been if they had been able to record more music. It was naturally a welcome surprise when we later found out that the boys of Capital Lights were returning to record another album. Four years after hearing This Is an Outrage, the band is back, releasing Rhythm 'N Moves to a flurry of high expectations. Unfortunately, it fails to meet many of them.
While This Is an Outrage admittedly focused more on the pop side of pop punk, Rhythm 'N Moves focuses on pop to a much greater extent. The album does start off promisingly, with the catchy title track sounding much like a return to form for the band. There's some nice pop rock guitars and a big melodic chorus. It's as much as can be expected, and seems to point to bigger and better things for the rest of the album. Sadly, it turns out to be mostly downhill from there. "Let Your Hair Down" introduces the new Capital Lights, and it's not an improvement. Instead of guitar-driven rock backed by a full band, we get cheesy electronic beats and sparse, radio-friendly production. "Caroline" takes it further, throwing in a depressing amount of autotune for good measure. The song is so programmed and synthesized that one wonders if the rest of the band just took the day off. Both tracks are certainly catchy to an extent, but they're cliche and stylistically empty to an extreme.
The album hits a high point at "Coldfront Heatstroke," which serves as a very welcome break from the radio pop void that was the previous two songs. In fact, it's the best song on the album, featuring the full band contributing to a pleasantly melodic rock track with perhaps even a hint of country influence. It perfectly demonstrates that Capital Lights works best as an actual band making traditional guitar-driven rock songs, which is the formula they used on Outrage, and is doubtless what most fans were expecting to hear again.
Sadly, any positives gleaned from "Coldfront Heatstroke" are soon forgotten once "Newport Party" starts spinning. It is not only the nadir of the album, but perhaps a symbolic representation of the Death Valley of radio pop music in general. Backed by a storm of autotune, synthesizers, and driving electronic bass, we learn that "A Newport party's not a real party until Laguna Beach bodies arrive. All the Riverside fellas lose their Cinderellas every night Orange County's alive." It's as cheesy a party song as one can possibly imagine, topped off by an absolutely atrocious guest rap appearance that seems almost like a satire. In fact, the whole track sounds like it could be a parody of party music in the style of early Family Force 5, but even as a joke it doesn't work. It's simply a regrettable experience all around.
The pattern of rock tracks alternating with electro-pop songs continues for the rest of the album, but even the rock songs get progressively worse. "Honey Don't Jump" has a sincere (albeit much overdone) message, but is delivered in a melody so generic, it's hard to remember once the next track has started. Meanwhile, "Say Hey!" comes close to being as bad as "Newport Party," even going so far as to include a cringe-worthy "shawty" reference. Even the better tracks like "Don't Drop Dead Juliet" and "Save the Last Dance" are much too generic and cliche to be truly memorable, even as simple pop songs.
It's hard to fight expectations, and high expectations were exactly what Capital Lights faced in their return. They seem to have made a conscious decision to change their style in an attempt to pursue popular success, even going so far as to openly state that they were seeking to write radio hits. While their sincerity is admirable, none of the changes implemented have been for the better. In the end, Rhythm 'N Moves is much less than it could have and should have been, and may go down as one of the bigger disappointments of the year.
- Review date: 7/15/12, written by Timothy Estabrooks of Jesusfreakhideout.com