After a pop punk debut focused more on the “punk,” The Audition follow up Controversy Loves Company with a superior record, which is surprising considering its greater emphasis on the “pop.” Lead singer Danny Stevens’ vocal style has changed into an incredibly appealing and catchy force to be reckoned with, and like the band’s change of focus to make the music easily accessible, the new sound comes off as an improvement. Groovy bass lines from Joe Lussa and fiery guitar riffs from Seth Johnson create some engaging and likable moments while Timmy Klepek’s rhythm guitar adds to each infectious melody. But it’s Stevens’ superbly harmonious voice that dominates Champion, giving it attitude and soul. There are a few dull moments, particularly in the album’s second half, but for the most part, The Audition’s sophomore album represents a successful stylistic shift that ultimately makes the band’s music more relevant and fun.
If the new style wasn’t immediately clear after a rousing leadoff track, “Warm Me Up” certainly gets the job done with its commanding guitar riffs, splashy drumming from Ryan O’Connor, and Stevens dishing out one of his best vocal performances on the album. The sensual and powerful nature of the riffs perfectly match the lust and primal sexuality of the lyrics, especially during a particularly soulful guitar solo, making this one of the catchiest songs of Champion.
“Hell To Sell” is largely dominated by Stevens’ succulent high notes, but the interplay between the pitch of the central guitar riff, which perfectly echoes the fluctuations in his voice to create a dynamic and stylish track. The sexuality of “Warm Me Up” also returns, adding to the song’s appeal and likability. The pop influence is prominent here, but the sensational guitar riffs keep things from straying too far away from the punk rock sound that makes The Audition so addicting, shown best by its climactical finish.
Despite its position near the end of the track list, “Make It Rain” is without a doubt the best of Champion and one of the greatest songs The Audition has ever produced. Refreshing and soothing guitar riffs set the lighthearted and fun tone, while Stevens does what he does best by delivering pitch-perfect vocals to create the most enjoyable set of choruses of the album. The sexually charged verses are once again supported by fervent guitar riffs, but the emphasis is more on having fun than the lust-driven words, as seen in the song’s opening lines: “Go around and tell all the neighbors / Go run and tell everyone / There’s a storm that’s coming for her / This time the rain will make her fall in love / This girl’s so condescending / Mysterious but beautiful / So go around and tell all the neighbors / I’m gonna grab her heart and won’t let go.”
From the opening moments of “Basbhat,” The Audition’s new direction is immediately evident, but with such catchy hooks and Stevens’ incredibly versatile vocal range, it’s hard to fault them for it. Champion provides some truly groovy and catchy jams without crossing too far into pop territory, making it a nearly perfect blend of pop punk. Although this sophomore album has a relatively short run time at 37 minutes and 10 tracks, it’s cram-packed with groovy and infectious tunes, making Champion a fast-hitting and enjoyable experience. From the soulful guitar riffs of “Ether” to Stevens’ falsetto on the impressive ballad “What Gets You Through The Night,” The Audition deliver a likable and diverse brand of pop punk that’s hard to turn down. Fans of Valencia, Hit The Lights, This Providence, Every Avenue, Just Surrender, Mayday Parade and The Starting Line will be right at home with The Audition, who deserve way more recognition and fame in the pop punk scene than they’ve managed to acquire thus far. Champion isn’t a revolutionary album for the genre by any means, but with sinfully sweet vocals, entertaining riffs, consistent drumming and catchy melodies, The Audition is a band worth your attention.
Final Score: 8.5/10
Rank: 2nd (four total albums)
- Warm Me Up
- Heaven For The Weather
- Hell To Sell
- What Gets You Through The Night
- Shady Business
- Make It Rain
- Have Gun, Will Travel