We all have those go-to summertime albums. The ones you reach for on July afternoons when you’re driving down the freeway with the windows down or the ones that provide the soundtrack to late summer night gatherings with your closest friends. So often, these records are dubbed as white noise – just background music with little meaning. Yet these simple moments tend to become some of the memories we cherish the most, making the songs that much more meaningful.
This is my relationship with the self-titled debut album from Boys Like Girls.
The height of the emo pop explosion in 2006 felt like a gold rush, with Fall Out Boy lookalikes multiplying like rabbits. In the moment, it was difficult to tell which bands would have the legs to last and which albums would stand the cold test of time, but with the luxury of hindsight, a few diamonds stick out in the rough.
I return to Boys Like Girls frequently, especially when the summer months come around. I often ask myself how “good” the album actually is, or if the moments associated with the record cloud my judgment with hazy nostalgia. I think the true answer lies somewhere in the middle.
While browsing PureVolume for new bands sometime in 2006, I stumbled across Boys Like Girls. The band’s page consisted of three songs: early versions of “The Great Escape” and “Hero/Heroine” and an acoustic rendition of “Thunder”. I was hooked after one listen. There was something about Martin Johnson’s vocals that captured my ear – the style was familiar, but the effortlessness of his delivery took me aback.
Those ungodly high notes during the chorus of “The Great Escape” pierce through your eardrums with graceful delight. At a time when it was more important that ever to stand out against the pop punk swarms, Johnson’s lines of “Throw it away, forget yesterday / We’ll make the great escape / We won’t hear a word they say / They don’t know us anyway” created a new blueprint for success.
By the time Boys Like Girls actually dropped their debut, I’d likely doubled their PureVolume streams. Perhaps it’s because of that saturation that when I listen to Boys Like Girls, my favorite tracks are rarely the singles. Instead, I often drift toward deep cuts like “Up Against the Wall”, “Holiday” and “Learning to Fall”. Regardless, the album is straight bubblegum from start to finish, rarely losing the flavorful tone set by “Great Escape”.
In many ways, Boys Like Girls is a microcosm of the mid-aughts scene. Equal parts heart-on-your-sleeve Dashboard Confessional misery and safely packaged pop punk merriment, crafted for radio success. On “Heels Over Head” Johnson snarks, “I got a front class ticket to a night all alone / And a front row seat up right by the phone” before blasting into another syrupy sweet chorus. It’s the type of song a computer would generate if an algorithm were created for pop punk perfection.
Whether you find that last sentence to be a slight or a compliment will directly correlate to how you feel about Boys Like Girls. From Paul DiGiovanni’s pitch-perfect riffs to John Keefe’s expertly placed fills, the album’s production quality is through the roof, nearly shrugging away any and all “punk” inclinations in the process. At its core, Boys Like Girls is a neon-colored pop record through and through, and it is impossibly infectious.
Even if the songs feel manufactured at times, and even though the album seems to lack depth upon first listen, these songs have stood the test of time for me, with various tracks meaning more at different stages of life. Whether looking for a song to cry to or a song to celebrate with, Boys Like Girls always comes up with a cure. It’s a safe place full of memories worth reliving.
The band’s eventual ascent to fame after the album’s release seemed to give credence to the idea that the band came straight off the pop punk conveyor belt, factory-made for scene domination. Their later releases proved otherwise, with the power pop-driven Love Drunk and alt-country infused Crazy World each showcasing another side of the band and dividing their fan base.
The lack of a follow-up that tread in the same footsteps as their debut has left a unique and puzzling mystique to Boys Like Girls. Regardless, even a carbon copy wouldn’t have held the same attraction – Boys Like Girls struck gold at exactly the right moment. In doing so, they assured that countless moments thereafter would forever be associated with the songs that we still know every lyric to.
Here’s to another summer of Boys Like Girls.
by Kiel Hauck
Kiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.