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Slow down as you approach the gate, and have your change ready....
Label: BEC Recordings (2001)
Length: 13 Tracks (43:13 minutes)
The Cadet story traces its origins to Oregon State University where songwriter and guitarist Ryan Smith quit his post as worship leader for Campus Crusade and turned his attention to forming a band. Smith's group began playing concerts in their home state and eventually placed their demo in the hands of BEC founder Brandon Ebel's younger brother who was attending OSU. The band signed with BEC Records shortly afterwards. For their self-titled debut, the group serves up equal helpings of blistering three-chord punk rock and softer, more melancholy pop fare. As it turns out, the trio possesses a surprisingly tight grasp of the pop genre for a new group. Entries like "Precious One" and "The Girl" (While she speaks, I search every word/ Hoping that she'll give it away) veritably overflow with the infectious, hook-heavy melody lines, joyously naive lyrics and sunny outlook that are indigenous to any well-written power pop ode. Conversely, the wispy vocal treatments, ambient guitarwork and introspective wording of the first-rate "Beyond" give that song a decidedly more melancholy, though no less attractive, character. And the album's finest tracks, "Land of the Living" and "Spoon," (I'm telling my heart/ Catch the sunlight with a spoon/ I've only tasted/ Your reflection off the moon) fuse deceptively simple lyrics and achingly beautiful Pet Sounds-era melodies to form musical statements as poignant and profound as those being made by any current-day pop artist, either Christian or mainstream.
The selections from the album's punk side, unfortunately, stand in perceptibly poor contrast to their pop siblings. "Talent Show," for instance, is an unexceptional slice of ska-heavy punk whose amateurish lyrics (This is the talent show/ And before it's ready to go/ I know you want to dance/ So, c'mon while we have a chance) mirror the song's mostly undistinguished sonics. The surf-influenced "God-Man (Jesus is My Superhero)" (There he is/ He labors day and night/ So now I'm always in his sight/ Without a doubt he'll do what's right), too, lacks nearly any hint of the wonderfully clever, often incisive wit that has been stock-in-trade for the bulk of the punk genre since its inception. And, despite the group's copious enthusiasm and able musicianship, the overly nasal vocal delivery and disjointed, dissonant guitarwork of the ill-fitted punk remake of "I'm a Believer" drain the Monkees' classic of all but trace amounts of its original buoyancy and charm.
In all fairness, the band's division of labor between punk and power pop is doubtless related, at least in part, to the relative popularity of the two genres. 1970s founding punk fathers like the Clash and Sex Pistols routinely hit platinum while virtual power pop icons such as Badfinger, Big Star and the Raspberries have nary a gold album between them. And, even during the last decade, single albums from '90s punk purveyors such as Green Day and the Offspring are still able to outsell the entire back catalogs of even the most fashionable pop revivalists. That taken into account, it is still lamentable that a band like Cadet, which is so capable of confecting such sweet unadulterated pop, should dilute the potency of that work by introducing a preponderance of punk material that is, at best, passable.
One would imagine that the lion's share of listeners will focus almost exclusively on Cadet's punkier offerings, while a much smaller group of true pop aficionados program their CD players to whittle the release down to about an EP's worth of the music that they love. In either case, the Cadet album serves, at best, as a mixed blessing for either set of fans.
Bert Gangl 4/8/2001