Let's get this out of the way real quick; I used to be a major AJR stan. I loved every one of their songs, nearly had a stroke when they announced this album, and enjoyed the hell out of it for months. The unique mix of instruments really drew me in at first.
Then, two major things happened.
1. I started watching Anthony Fantano. Yes, I'm probably biased because I mainly listen to stuff he reviews, and I don't have enough MuSiCaL kNoWleDgE to formulate my own educated opinions. But the things he said really got me thinking, so I started to listen to Neotheater more to see if my own opinion on it had changed.
2. I saw AJR in concert. And oh boy, was it garbage. It was for an LGBTQ+ charity concert, and while a lot of the artists were there to share a message or support the cause, AJR was shoehorned into the line-up last minute and brought absolutely nothing to the table. Their audio cut out multiple times, and to fill the time while the sound was being fixed, attempted to cover "Location" by Khalid before realizing they didn't know the lyrics. It was overall a mess, and changed the way I saw the group.
So now on to the review.
Neotheater is garbage. What younger me used to see as "innovative" and "quirky" just appears as shallow, pandering, and often absurd. I'll admit, there are some sounds that I could pick out in almost every track that I like. But for every one sound I think is interesting, there are 10 awkward and obnoxiously loud choices that make me ask "why did you think that should've been added to the song"? Their songs are bloated with effects and impossible to recognize noises that produce a jumbled mess of sound.
And don't get me started on the lyrics. They are SO DAMN SHALLOW. They are what ruin the album the most for me. It's obvious that their demographic is teenagers to young adults, and the lyrics are the most surface level way of appealing to that group. The songs are so soulless. They seem to write their songs with the sole purpose of getting a vague emotion or life event across to the listener and hoping the tweens listening to the songs will find something deep in it. Either that, or AJR are just genuinely terrible songwriters.
If you're looking for some millennial pop with the same amount of edge as a spoon, go ahead and listen to this. You'll probably enjoy it. But if you actually care about your music, please skip over this. Personally, I am going to keep an eye on AJR, as their new single is supposed to drop in a few days. All I want is for AJR to take some time to work on making more original and inventive songs, especially when it comes to the lyrics. If they can make their music even SLIGHTLY more bearable, I might form some sort of respect for what they are doing. But for now, they are probably my least favorite group in the industry right now.
Most Bearable Tracks: um... maybe Turning Out Pt. ii? Possibly the Finale? No clue man, I don't like any of them.
Songs to Skip, Even if You Like Their Music: Beats. Don't listen to Beats.