2002 isn’t exactly remembered as a vintage year for many in our musical bailiwick but to some it was a temporary interruption of the dark ages. To me it’s the year that New Found Glory brought Finch and The Starting Line to the UK.
The show in Southampton brought both bands and their legendary label, Drive-Thru Records, into my life. Throughout that teenage summer I was interested in nothing else. I tore through the Drive-Thru canon like it was about to disappear from existence. Finch’s What It Is To Burn was one of my favourite records and remains there or thereabouts today.
And I listened to The Starting Line’s first EP and debut album, Say It Like You Mean It, obsessively. Its powerful blend of emo and pop-punk is the closest I ever really got to liking the former, but it does render the subject matter quite specifically angsty.
Singer and bassist Kenny Vasoli, a genuinely lovely guy to have a quick pre-gig chat with back in those days, is a few months older than me. We’re not teenagers anymore, nor remotely close to it. In this edition of ‘Revisiting…’ I’ll be finding out how his band’s early work stacks up in the cold light of adulthood.
The Starting Line
Say It Like You Mean It
Say It Like You Mean It was released in the summer of 2002 and I was waiting for it feverishly. Every cell, every pore of The Starting Line was youthful. But live, they were a polished outfit even in their infancy. And there I was, at the barrier, reeled in like a fish on a line. I spent the entirety of a terrible holiday in Portugal desperate to get home, knowing this record was on the doormat.
The typical teenage themes were a part of that but there’s much more to this album than the lyrics. For starters, this is very definitely a pop-punk record. It might have been at the emo end of the genre fifteen years ago but today’s charlatans make it sound like Napalm Death.
Without that snarl, slight though it may be, Say It Like You Mean It has nothing. With it, it found a sweet spot. It delivered the party punk we wanted to hear and the emo that dragged us along like the impressionable, gullible egocentrists we were.
The Starting Line soon went in another direction – no pun intended, though I’ll claim it if asked – and I honestly have no idea whether their debut full-length would work for listeners discovering it today. There’s no doubt a big part of my love for it even now is a result of the connection I felt with it as a kid.
But there’s a twist: the songs are uniformly wonderful. I think and hope that makes this album undeniable, even if adult ears can pick out the emotional immaturity and insecurity within seconds of any song they care to begin with.
Vasoli is a fantastic songwriter and a convincing raconteur. The lyrical themes might not resonate anymore but the vocabulary, vocal lines and wordplay put other bands of this type in the shade. Musically, this stuff is catchier than chicken pox. The chorus riff of the last song, ‘This Ride’, is brief but mighty.
Opener ‘Up & Go’ sets the tone perfectly and packs one of the album’s flawless choruses. Lead single ‘The Best Of Me’ is right at the emo end of the spectrum of the record and sits immediately before the brilliant ‘A Goodnight’s Sleep’, which shows off the writing skills that set The Starting Line apart.
In terms of dexterity and refined variety, the four-song run from ‘Hello Houston’ to ‘Left Coast Envy’ represents a real highlight. It’s in such moments that Say It Like You Mean It somehow transcends its own message. Sometimes, I suppose, quality simply shines through.