The All-American Rejects were overtaken by events when their self-titled 2002 debut album whipped up a storm. Initially a small release on US indie label Doghouse, it bagged them a major deal with DreamWorks and excitable reviews referencing influential names, including The Who, The Cars, and Weezer. The Rejects’ sophomore release, 2005’s Move Along, also did brisk business, but 2008’s When The World Comes Down remains the pinnacle when it comes to their artistic achievement.
A relentless rollercoaster ride
Originally a songwriting duo consisting of Tyson Ritter (bass/vocals) and guitarist Nick Wheeler, The All-American Rejects first formed in Stillwater, Oklahoma, in 1999. However, their eponymous debut’s crossover success led to them morphing into a fully-fledged quartet; tour alumni Mike Kennerty and drummer Chris Gaylor remained on board for the double-platinum Move Along, which included three Billboard Top 20 hits, “Dirty Little Secret,” “Move Along” and “It Ends Tonight.”
Laden with killer pop-punk anthems, The All-American Rejects and Move Along established Ritter and Wheeler as songwriters of repute, and their band’s exuberant live shows further spread the gospel. However, opportunities to pen a third album proved elusive when the band’s extensive tornado trek, in support of Move Along, dragged into 2007. By this time, Ritter and Wheeler needed some solitude – partly to create new material, but also to reflect on the relentless rollercoaster ride of the past five years.
“If you have somebody there for you, you still have love”
In the end, the duo decamped separately to remote parts of North America for some overdue R&R, but when they returned, they’d sketched out the band’s most consistent set of songs to date. To realize them, The All-American Rejects hooked up with in-demand producer Eric Valentine (Queens Of The Stone Age, Smash Mouth), initially at George Lucas’ Skywalker Ranch, in San Rafael, California, and then for further sessions at LA’s Barefoot Studios.
Released on December 16, 2008, When The World Comes Down’s title offered a clue that the third AAR album contained their most reflective material yet: “The title seems really negative, which maybe fits with the times right now,” Nick Wheeler explained in an interview with PopMatters.
“But it’s not the whole story. It’s saying that when your world is coming down – whether that means someone biting the big one or getting fired or whatever – but if you have something or somebody there for you, then you still have love to make life worthwhile and be happy.”
“It’s still the best record we ever made”
As Wheeler hinted, The All-American Rejects had grown significantly in the five years since their debut album hit the racks. Their collective rites of passage had, however, inspired their most resonant songs to date: ‘Fallin’ Apart,” the crestfallen ‘The Wind Blows” and the plaintive, acoustic ‘Mona Lisa” were clearly fueled by the downsides of affairs of the heart, while the world-weariness in Ritter’s voice was palpable on the synth-laced ‘Real World” when he sang, “The shadows come, but no one seems to care.”
Largely, though, the existentialism was leavened by exhilarating music. Despite its troubled kiss-off line (“I don’t wanna believe that when we die, we all leave”), the storming ‘Believe” was as life-affirming as a rubber-burning pop-punk anthem can be. ‘Another Heart Calls,” meanwhile, featured Ritter trading lines with LA-based duo The Pierces, and while its lyric raked over the embers of a broken relationship, it remains as dynamic and cinematic as anything in The All-American Rejects’ canon.
As the quirky, tongue-in-cheek ‘Gives You Hell” and the infectious ‘I Wanna” also proved, When The World Comes Down contained its fair share of radio-friendly singles. Promoted by a memorable clip directed by Marc Webb, the former quickly rose to No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 (giving the band their biggest US single to date) while ‘I Wanna” also cracked the Top 40 of Billboard’s Mainstream Rock chart.
“This record was therapy”
Released while AAR was touring the US with Taking Back Sunday, When The World Comes Down received favorable reviews, with The Boston Globe suggesting the record “will only cement the band’s top-of-the-heap status.” It also put up a strong showing on the Billboard 200, where it peaked at No. 15 and quickly went gold, proving that the band had successfully matured without jettisoning their core audience.
The album’s content rightly filled its creators with pride: “I think When The World Comes Down has been a journey,” Tyson Ritter told PopMatters in 2009. “I think I was most questioning life when I was getting off the road with Move Along, and this record was therapy. It’s everything I needed it to be for me.”
“Right now, we’re living it and we want it to match or beat the success of Move Along,” Nick Wheeler added, “but even if it doesn’t, it’s still the best record we’ve ever made.”
When The World Comes Down can be bought here.