After the release of its highly successful album, “The Click,” in 2017, AJR — a trio made up of Adam, Jack and Ryan Met — had to make a big decision when it came to the production of its new album, “Neotheater.” The band had to decide between taking the safe route of creating an album that resembled the sound of its previous album or traveling down a different path.
“Neotheater” opens up with “Next Up Forever.” Although the trio decided to part ways with its tradition of having an “Overture” at the beginning — which is an instrumental mashup of all its songs — the introduction immediately draws listeners in. It starts with a choir sample, which makes the album feel like the start of a Disney movie. The band makes it clear they don’t want to recreate the vibe of their last album by singing, "I gotta go so much bigger / Welcome to Neotheater, won't everybody take their seat," which tells the audience to sit down and enjoy the ride. Breaking away from the typical introduction showcases the band's new outlook on how its new method, which worked due to the usage of the same instrumental vibe the audience is used to.
The lead singles on the album, “Birthday Party” and “100 Bad Days,” represent a new era of the band focusing on their mental health. “Birthday Party” demonstrates how naive a child can be once they’re first born into this world, while “100 Bad Days” expresses that the struggles they face in life are what makes them human and explains the lessons they can gain from those failures. The trio wanted to play off the idea of “what doesn’t kill you makes you more interesting,” which is also seen in the song “Break My Face” when the band says, “what doesn’t kill you makes you ugly — life gives you lemons.”
They continue the idea of being human through the song “Karma.” This the vision of AJR’s lead vocalist Jack Met who questions all the good things he’s done the past year, but in the end, asks his therapist why good deeds aren’t coming his way. The escalating beats create the rush of trying to figure out why everything doesn’t go as planned, but toward the end of the song, the beat slows down as Met’s voice crescendos. Now, he realizes feeling good doesn’t necessarily result in good things happening to him.
The trio didn’t let go of their inner child. “Don’t Throw Out My Legos,” shows that the band members are at the age of moving out of their parents' house but don’t want them to throw out the nostalgia from their childhood and the memories that come with it. The same theme appeared in “Netflix Trip,” a song from their previous album where Ryan Met connects the tv show “The Office” to significant moments in his life. They hold on to their past because that’s their safety net, but if they move out, they might go back home. Connecting back to an old song did help with seeing how Ryan Met has shifted from reflecting on his childhood to the next phase in his life of moving out and becoming an adult.
AJR ends the album with “Finale, (Can’t Wait To See What You Do Next),” which informs the audience that even if this is its last album, it hopes it made everyone proud. Even with a new sound, the band knows that the true ones will stay and continue to watch what it does next. The boys end the album with the same lyric they started the album with: “Welcome to the Neotheater — we can’t wait to see what you do next,” which showcases a new era to come.
“Neotheater” symbolizes the story of the band’s process of maturation. The boys are thinking about what they want to do for the rest of their lives, but at the same time, there’s fear of trying something new and failing. It keeps their same aesthetic of having a variety of lively horns and electrifying beats that make it easy to bop your head while having a different inspiration for the album.
Contact Talia Davis at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Twitter @Breeze_Culture.