On their third LP, this trio of brothers build on the commercial success of 2017’s The Click, with bubbly tracks steeped in light orchestration, crisp hooks and even a little social commentary. Earlier this year, their single “Burn the House Down” became a semi-official anthem against gun violence by the March For Our Lives. They hit one or two adjacent notes here, too. “Birthday Party” is sung from the perspective of a newborn baby in the hospital: “I bet my ignorance is always bliss/Except ignoring pigment in our skin/I bet my country’s nice to immigrants,” the theoretical infant assumes. Elsewhere, AJR sing about coming of age from a more personal perspective: “Don’t Throw Out My Legos” is a saccharine but strangely affecting ode to lost innocence, riding pensive pianos and an ascending beat as they turn “I don’t wanna move on” into a boy-band lament, and “100 Bad Days” is a catchy catalogue of potential life-altering tragedies (“I wrote a song that no one knows/I played a show and no one showed”).
Usually, AJR treat these slings and arrows with a lighthearted matter-of-factness. They jokingly off-quote Nietzsche (“what doesn’t kill you makes you ugly”) on “Break My Face,” and “Karma” turns an unearned lack of good fortune into a buoyant song. The music’s effervescence — mixing hip-hop, EDM and strummy pop, adding strings and horns — makes for an album that flies in the face of modern Top 40’s conventional glumness. “Wow, I’m Not Crazy” turns a mutual recognition of everyday psychological trauma (“frankly I’m scared of clowns”) into an arena-size sing-along that could do wonders for a generation of tweens who saw IT way too young.