Versus the World are almost veterans of the scene and, including ex-members of The Ataris and Lagwagon, are the vehicle for lead singer, songwriter and guitarist Donald Spence to vent about life on and off the road and rage about the lot of the downtrodden of the world and what beautiful people they all are. Whilst not exactly being a concept album, all the songs are inspired by the touring lifestyle and the difficulties of being away from home, or the hardship of adapting to life when you come off tour. It’s all fairly autobiographical stuff with most of the lyrics being in the first person, with Donald trying his best to come across as a hard-drinking, fucked-up, lovable rogue.
‘The Santa Margarita’ is the lead off, and first single; it makes all the right noises but with its poppy riffing, breaks and time changes, it comes over on the predictable side. ‘The Black Ocean’, however, is much more interesting both musically and lyrically, reportedly conceived on a night flight to Japan, it is a nice unhurried song that stays in the memory with some great interplay between the guitars and a bit of shredding from Tony Caraffa (ex-Murderland) on the solo to give it a bit of axe. Tony finally joined the band after a period as occasional stand-in for Chris Flippin, who still had commitments with Lagwagon for a while, and now contributes to the writing on a few of the tracks, including ‘A Storm Like Me’. The only thing is, there isn’t really much of a storm going on, it’s a pretty half-hearted formulaic fare of riffing, vocals over rhythm plus one guitar, bridge/chorus in the same tempo, predictably slower mid section, acapella pause – repeat hooks until thunderous closing chord.
There is an air of Offspring to ‘Seven. Thirty One’. After a more frantic opening, the three guitars interplay with some licks and a variety of riffing, it’s less predictable with a good solo and a more interesting vocal melody that reminds me a little of Muse. Donald reverts to type on ‘A Brooklyn Rooftop’, however, with that oh so familiar vocal sound, it is about ‘we’ rather than ‘me’ though, and we are, apparently, not “as fucked up as we used to be”. Okay then.
‘Sight for Sore Eyes’ is a bit different, but the “don’t let the bastards drag you down” lyric sounds naive and cliché with the line “You’re beautiful like a rock in a cop’s face” coming across as trying to be clever, but not really pulling it off. ‘Homesick/Roadsick’ is another fine display of limited vocal range and is another predictable slice of pop punk, dragging out the vowels and employing that well-worn guitar sound to maximum effect. There is a bit of a solo to break the tedium but it’s a bit boring actually, as is ‘Bullet Train’ which is three and a half irrelevant minutes of pure filler where we get to hear a few more fucks to some driving riffs. ‘Detox/Retox’is vocally more interesting, but by now the lovable rogue persona is wearing a bit thin, although a good guitar solo and some intensity to the riffs and guitar breaks turns it into a pretty good track. ‘Self Preservation is Killing Us All’ has some more fucks, another solo, some rousing drums to round off with a singalong ending, yet leaves me cold. ‘Our Song’, apparently was rehearsed for the first time in the studio and was probably intended to be a climactic ‘We are the Champions’ style finale, but at only two and a half minutes, the frenzied drumming and riffing with vocal counterpoint doesn’t really work and sounds like something that was knocked up at the last minute in the studio.
I have no desire to ride roughshod over Versus the World, they are musically very tight and have obviously put a lot of time and energy into what they do. Sum 41, Blink 182, All-American Rejects et al have proved that the kids like this kind of thing and VTW tick all the boxes, so I’m positive there is enough pop punk power to keep their loyal fans happy – it’s just that there’s nothing particularly new or exciting about this for me and I find it hard to identify with the ‘me, myself and I’ spirit of the songs. There are one or two moments, however, that make it interesting, but not enough for me to be left wanting more.
’Homesick/Roadsick’ by Versus The World is out on now on Kung Fu Records.
Words by Edward Layland (@EdwardLayland)