The Starting Line were quite a pleasant surprise in the realm of alternative/punk rock with their exceptional but less popular debut album, Say It Like You Mean It, back in 2002, a phenomenal record from start to finish filled with great songs that fit the genre perfectly, even if they weren’t heard on a larger scale like their followup on a major label, Based On A True Story. After gaining mass popularity for these two stellar albums, there were rightful concerns about whether or not Direction would continue the trend of excellent and enjoyable punk rock. The answer is yes, but with mixed results. Because as much as The Starting Line’s third album retains the band’s typical charm and entertaining brand of music, the new style moves the band further into alternative territory and fails to live up to their two prior albums. There are a lot of quality moments here and the majority of the new material make for fine additions to The Starting Line’s best songs, but there are plenty of duds as well, meaning Direction amounts to little more than a new, mediocre entry in the band’s discography.
From the very start of “Direction,” it’s pretty obvious that group’s third album will shape up to be fairly different from its predecessors, as the scratchy buzz of electric guitars immediately sets up an aggressive sound not seen often from The Starting Line. Lead singer Kenny Vasoli’s rougher vocals quickly establish an edgier tone than in the past. While Vasoli’s voice usually fluctuates between a soothing, softer coo and his normally coarse vocals, the rugged side seems to win out for the majority of the album, and “Direction” is exemplary proof of that. However, Vasoli straddles the line with effectively rough vocals that convey the emotion behind the song without driving the listener away by being too harsh. “Direction” establishes the heavier tone right away, but now without the same enjoyable qualities that make The Starting Line such a great punk rock band.
“21” is the “Bedroom Talk” of Direction, a simple but entertaining account of youth and the recklessly obscene behavior that goes with it. But whereas “Bedroom Talk” focused on sex, “21” centers on becoming the traditional rite of passage that occurs upon turning 21 and being able to drink, which is perfectly represented by fairly accurate lyrics about the celebration of a 21st birthday: “It’s seven and I’m already wasted, I’m twenty-one and I’m already hazy, what am I gonna do, what am I gonna do now?” While this isn’t the band’s most groundbreaking material, “21” is a fun and catchy song that continues the emphasis on heavier instruments while still retaining the catchy and animated feel their music is known for.
While the album’s first three songs have potential for being successful singles, “Island” easily trumps them all as Direction‘s catchiest and best all-around song. Tom Gryskiewicz’s upbeat drumming sets the happy tone while Matt Watts and Mike Golla provide some pleasant guitar riffs to complement. Vasoli’s vocals are much more polished and clean than the majority of Direction and the addition of bongos and Brian Schmutz’s keyboards lends to the overall tropical feel of the song implied by its title.
“Something Left To Give” is one of two simple but moving ballads on the album, mixing up its tempo and giving it a bit more variety. This relaxing and acoustic-dominated song reflects on the singer’s desire to accomplish something meaningful before his time is done. Vasoli’s smooth vocals are right on the money as the song builds up with percussion and guitar as a group chants the chorus to involve the audience. “Something Left To Give” isn’t the greatest ballad the world’s ever seen, but its reflective and calm tone is a pleasant break from the alternative action that dominates the majority of Direction.
Direction starts off on an incredibly strong note with its first four songs (not mentioned is the impressive “Are You Alone,” a straightforward and mellow rocker gem) but ultimately drops off a bit in the middle before another moving ballad in “Need To Love” closes things off. The newest album isn’t their strongest material, but The Starting Line provided fans with a few more quality singles to enjoy, even if Direction is a little subpar as a whole. The more aggressive, heavier, alternative style of this album is an interesting change of page but in the end, proves to be its downfall. The Starting Line’s early, punk rock sound was significantly more agreeable, even if this slightly varied take on that same style isn’t completely terrible. The album lags at some points in the middle and Vasoli’s coarse vocals take a toll as they seem slightly repetitive during that stretch, but this is still The Starting Line, and fans will appreciate the majority of the group’s new material. Fans of The Dangerous Summer, The Wonder Years, The Audition, New Found Glory, Cartel, Taking Back Sunday, Man Overboard, The Swellers, Say Anything, Motion City Soundtrack and Matchbook Romance will also find something to enjoy here. Direction tries to break new ground and alters the band’s already enjoyable sound, and while it comes up a bit short of the same mark of excellence of Say It Like You Mean It and Based On A True Story, it still manages to entertain in typical The Starting Line fashion.
Final Score: 7.4/10
Rank: 3rd (three total albums)
- Are You Alone
- Something Left To Give
- Way With Words
- I Could Be Wrong
- Somebody’s Gonna Miss Us
- Need To Love
- What You Want