The Get Up Kids engage in a holding pattern for exactly two songs on There Are Rules, the emo-punk icons’ first full-length album since 2004’s supposed swan song, Guilt Show. The rest of the album’s 10 tracks are then spent rendering every label you would usually apply to the recently reunited band unrecognizable. Yes, believe it or not, the Get Up Kids have produced the first truly surprising album of 2011. Do all of the genre excursions the Kids engage in work? Absolutely not, but the sheer audacity of a reunited band beloved by many, who assembled an instantly recognizable and divisive body of work during their initial run, to ditch almost all of their hallmarks and put out a very self-serving record is something that demands attention.
The previously mentioned holding pattern appears in the form of the first two tracks. While “Tithe” is one of the most aggressive songs the Kids have ever put to tape, complete with some of keyboardist James Dewees’ most dissonant work, it still dwells in relatively safe territory: The vocals are shouty, the structure pretty straightforward. This continues on “Regent’s Court,” which employs some similar tricks, but packages it in a far more streamlined song. From “Shatter Your Lungs” onwards, though, you could be forgiven for thinking you were listening to an entirely different band if it weren’t for the distinct voices of Matt Pryor and Jim Suptic at the helm of each song. While each of the Kids spent their time off playing in various other bands, it’s bassist Rob Pope’s time in Spoon that looms the heaviest over the rest of There Are Rules. Rather than try and co-opt that band’s sound, they instead embrace the Austin rockers’ fearless restlessness when it comes to songwriting.
Unfortunately, this leads to tracks like the needlessly dour and noisy-for-noise’s-sake “Rally ‘Round The Fool” and the overly dramatic and screechy “The Widow Paris.” But on the other side of things, it convincingly re-invents the Kids as a very spiky and overly caffeinated new wave band. “Pararelevant” finds Pryor and Suptic engaging it what seems like a contest to see who can play guitar faster on top of an especially bouncy Pope bass line. “Shatter Your Lungs” and “Automatic” are the band’s biggest excursions into electronic sounds, and redeem Dewees a bit after the bummer that was the last Reggie And The Full Effect album. “Better Lie” is the absolute pinnacle of the Kids’ new sound, constantly sounding like it’s about to go flying out of control before locking into a great, dual-vocal chorus.
In a memorable 2009 interview with Drowned In Sound, Suptic apologized for having influenced the current crop of bands that fly the emo flag. There Are Rules is that apology dragged to its logical conclusion, while only occasionally seeming overly deliberate about being defiant. It tones down the lyrical hysteria of their past work, while advancing their overall sound about three steps beyond what anyone probably expected. Fans who were put off by the deviations of 2002’s On A Wire will probably be just as pissed. Meanwhile, listeners who dismissed the Kids in the past as overwrought emo drivel might actually find things to like this time around.