Members of the Plain White T's -- the suburban Chicago collective now cursed with the mammoth success of their 2007 worldwide hit "Hey There Delilah" -- claim their new album is inspired by "the feeling of awe and the yearning for adventure remembered from youth." Lead singer-guitarist Tom Higgenson says he saw a Cirque du Soliel show in Las Vegas that "gave me that feeling of being a kid and seeing 'Goonies' for the first time ... adventurous and imaginative and different." Indeed, "Wonders of the Younger" charges out of the gate with clear ambitions to be all those things -- hey, Green Day wrote a big Broadway show, and we can too! -- but doesn't commit to the mission.
"Wonders of the Younger," out Tuesday, opens with "Irrational Anthem," a stomping fight song for childhood's lost marvels, "all the dreams that we could not hold onto." "I remember wishing I was older / always something big around the corner," Higgenson sings in the acoustic intro. It needn't be the start of a full-on concept album, but that sentiment would make for a relevant and perhaps timely theme to explore across the arc of a record. Instead of an arc, though, we only get occasional detours from what is apparently going to be the Plain White T's formula of lovelorn laments. By track two, "Boomerang," the guys are back to being young-adult dudes dicing up romantic clichés.
When they're playing Peter Pan, it's a blast -- and far more musically adventurous, as well. "Welcome to the Mystery" is a magical such tour around an island of make-believe, complete with "blue treetops and velvet skies." "Map of the World" runs joyously back and forth across the keyboard while pondering the viewpoint of those "feeling small" and repeatedly asking, "Where do I fit in?" Best of all is "Make It Up as You Go," a childlike celebration of punkish spirit ("I'll cut my own hair / I don't care if you like it") built on a righteous boogie beat and a shouted chorus. "Yo Gabba Gabba!" should pencil this into its production schedule immediately. But the album has 14 songs, and the rest of them are slightly tired, by-the-book romance rock. "Broken Record," for instance, apes Maroon 5 to the point of embarrassment, and the hyped "Rhythm of Love," written and sung by guitarist Tim Lopez, never quite rises from its poolside chaise. The latter song, like "Delilah," also failed to win the heart of the girl it's written about. Since the love songs these guys pen aren't fulfilling their objective, maybe they should just commit to the regression. It produces much better music.