Ian Parton, the creator and initial sole-member of the Go! Team, seemingly threw everything he had and loved into Thunder, Lightning, Strike (2004), his band’s immense debut album. And I mean literally threw it in there: The Mercury Prize-nominated album featured more samples than the Home Depot paint department, lending an incredible amount of (re)playability and depth to otherwise shallow and short-lived pop songs from years past. But the band’s move to a mostly live set on Proof of Youth without much rethinking of its sound might be a mistake. The endless detail of Thunder, Lightning, Strike was likely a result of Parton’s vast knowledge of girl groups, television themes, and early hip-hop. The spirit and energy of that love is still here on Proof of Youth, but when asked to make the hooks instead of just borrow them, the Go! Team’s wall of sound begins to thin.
Take opener "Grip Like a Vice," a near-copy, at least formally, of the debut’s "The Power Is On." Singer Ninja’s fierce delivery adds a welcome personality and weight to the schoolyard chants the band’s known for, but the foregrounding of a single melodic line and the overpowering drums remove the pastiche quality and distinct pairings of Thunder, Lightning, Strike. For the most part, the tracks all sound the same as before, but they lack the definition and fine-tuning. Simply put, very little surprises here.
However, "My World" and "Fake ID" show a promising alternative route for the Go! Team, one that re-imagines rather than reuses. "My World" is an acoustic, instrumental affair, a low-key version of Alan Parker’s "The Free Life" that leaves behind the double drum set for a single track. "Fake ID" is the only completely non-appropriative track on the album, and it lets the band focus on creation instead of reproduction. Unexpectedly, that direction is away from the hip-hop and soul beats of much of the album and toward a grungy twee sound, somewhere between garage rock and shoegaze.
On an album where even the guest stars feel like samples worn out from repeated play — the back cover announces the song "Flashlight Fight (Featuring Chuck D)" — the few innovative tracks offer hope that the Go! Team won’t stagnate by its third outing.