Retrospective Review: The Starting Line – Direction

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the starting line direction

Over the course of this summer and perhaps beyond, the “Retrospective Series” will take a look back at a handful of my favorite albums released over the course of the last fifteen years. My goal is to give you, the reader, an introspective look at my initial reactions and opinions to each album, and how my thoughts may have evolved from release to present day. Finally, I hope to explain why each record continues to maintain my attention and affection (and demands yours as well) even years after release and hundreds of streams later.

The second retrospective will examine “Direction” by The Starting Line. The album was released on July 31, 2007

One exceptional album can carry a band for their entire career. The Starting Line earned that opportunity after releasing their debut album Say It Like You Mean It, which featured the mainstream hit “Best of Me.” Admirably, the band decided against idly riding the success of their fantastically catchy debut, instead releasing the surprisingly gritty Based on a True Story. For lead singer and bassist Kenny Vasoli, the record was a regretful, instinctual reaction to his past naivety. Their penultimate full-length was indisputably progressive, but lacked the self-awareness required of an instant classic. But if The Starting Line was on the verge of pop-rock immortality with their sophomore release, then their third and final release, Direction, cemented their greatness.

Unlike the innocuous openers of records past, the title track begins with an abrupt chord, intense snare hits along with crashing cymbals, and strained vocals. Although the entirety of the album doesn’t match the ferocity in its opener, it is indicative of the band’s new desire to write songs grounded in rock as opposed to pop. This maturation produces a litany of slick songs because the band’s instrumentation, keys included, tightly follows highly introspective vocal-patterns. Like in “Birds,” where crunchy and seemingly impatient guitars give Vasoli just enough time to explain the tolls of non-stop touring, only for him to conclude that it’s worthwhile as the song covertly and seamlessly transitions from verse to chorus, “I hope that this is what you want, ‘cause my throat will be the first thing to go/and I hope that some day I’ll hear everyone say: Is that all you’ve got? Turn it up keep it coming/‘cause I’ve got the words to keep the birds humming.”

The Starting Line, however, shine brightest on Direction’s three most experimental tracks. The authoritative “Are You Alone”, the easygoing “Island”, and the exasperated yet thankful “Something Left to Give.” The trio is demonstrative of the band’s growth, each song is memorable but not overbearing. At the same time, they are mellowed but vibrant, ambitious without being aimless. The Starting Line prove that pop-rock music doesn’t have to be fast to be catchy. Especially on “Something Left to Give”, which begins with slow, chiming acoustic guitars and gradually builds to a gang-vocal filled chorus of “La’s”, but still finds a way to maintain its poise.

In hindsight, the album’s title remains a perfect proclamation of the The Starting Line’s aspirations not only when crafting Direction, but throughout their career: unapologetic progression. But if fans of The Starting Line gave no deference to underlying message within the album’s title, then Vasoli made sure it wasn’t missed, as he sang on “Somebody’s Gonna Miss Us,” “If S.I.L.Y.M.I is all you want, then I’m not sure how much in common we’ve got.” With an attitude like that, it’s obvious the members of The Starting Line weren’t afraid to challenge each other or their fans, and it’s why the band was able to follow their promising debut with a pair of extraordinary albums.

Colin Macfarlane