If Brain Thrust Mastery is any indication, We Are Scientists has decided to dedicate its musical career to the careful study of everything that makes contemporary pop-rock bland and inoffensive. With its sophomore effort, it has created its Mona Lisa. Every song on the album seems to have been meticulously written, produced and performed to such painstaking standards of mediocrity that it almost seems like a stroke of genius. That is, until you realize that they’re being completely serious.
We Are Scientists, I assume, is not a band that is really dedicated to providing a representation of exact average-ness in rock music, but it does it with such striking aplomb that it almost fashions itself as a litmus test: If a band is better than We Are Scientists, that band is good; if a band is worse than We Are Scientists, that band is bad.
At least in its mediocrity, We Are Scientists has no delusions of grandeur. Almost all of the songs on the album have a distinctly negative tone to them. “We all recognize that I’m the problem here,” lead singer Keith Murray moans on the album’s opening track (“Ghouls”), which also doubles as the album’s most memorable track, mainly because it is the album’s first. The negativity here is unfounded: The group’s first album was pretty good, and this one is the kind vanilla that unimaginative seventh graders really enjoy.
The main problem with this album is that there are no moments unfilled by noise. This was not an issue on With Love and Squalor, where the band achieved a kind of cocaine-fueled persona of non-stop debauchery that worked well with its no-space-left-unfilled sonic approach. However, when it switches to a more self-reflective and self-deprecating mode, it just seems like the band is trying way too hard… as a result, the group manages to achieve all the depth of puddles formed after a rainstorm.
That isn’t to say the album doesn’t have any good songs. “Tonight, Tonight” uses the synthesizers to good effect, highlighting Murray’s vocal strengths and is good enough to provide a teaser for what We Are Scientists might become, should it realize its potential. However, ideally it would be a highlight of the second side of an album, not the lone bright spot in a mountain of grey-sounding pop-schlock.
Hopefully We Are Scientists will grow out of its sonic stagnation and move into territory that Jimmy Eat World has not already covered ad nauseum.