Canadian-based act Hawk Nelson debuted to wide open arms in 2004 with their impressive release Letters To The President, a collection of positive pop-punk rock songs that served as a welcomed alternative to their mainstream counterparts. If Letters suffered from anything, it was a lack of originality on the band's part, despite offering some truly well-crafted pop songs. Since their debut, Hawk Nelson has endured a guitar and drummer change, and has picked up quite a bit of steam, even garnering a small bit in a major motion picture along the way. Their sophomore release, entitled Smile, It's The End of The World, takes the Hawk Nelson sound to a new level, showcasing a distinctly more mature approach to songwriting, giving the songs a more raw and edgy production.
Hawk Nelson's maturity speaks volumes in the aggressive opener "The One Thing I Have Left," an anthemic reminder that the world can't rob you of your dignity or beliefs. Fusing mere hints of their pop-punk stylings from the debut with a more rock and punk base, "The One Thing I Have Left" is the kind of song that redefines a band. The infectiously fun follow-up, "The Show," incorporates more of the band's pop-punk beginnings while taking it to newer, and even unpredictable, levels. The song climaxes with guest vocals from a Seattle, Washington barbershop quartet that lend a soulful touch to the song reminiscent of Huey Lewis. The catchy party theme "Bring 'Em Out," originally written for the band's contribution to the film Yours, Mine, and Ours, fits nicely into the mix, prior to slowing things down for the emotional ballad "Everything You Ever Wanted." "Everything..." bears a slight resemblance to something one might hear from Hoobastank as it opens, before Hawk's Jason Dunn drifts his vocals into the melody. The song tackles the sensitive subject of divorce, neglect, and blame, ultimately posing as a highlight track on the record.
The piano-intro of the exuberant "Something On My Mind" returns the album to an upbeat note, and follows with the contemplative highlight "Is Forever Enough," until things slow again for the anti-suicide ballad "Zero." From there on out, until the beautiful piano ballad closer "14," the album hardly lets up from the band's signature upbeat pop/punk flavored rock. Songs like the fun and frisky "Hello" and "It's Over" cover more relevant social and dating issues common among young people, leaving very little room for spiritual content. In fact, if there's any downside to Smile, It's The End Of The World, it is its lack of spirituality. The band's debut, Letters To The President, was so bold and overtly Christian without being too cliche or cheesy, that Smile... feels more like a mainstream record. The band still stands out with their squeeky clean lyrical content that contrasts their often crass and rude secular counterparts, but the wear-it-on-your-sleeve Christian pride of their debut is missed here.
Smile, It's The End of The World breaks new ground for the Hawk Nelson boys as they grow in age and musical maturity. While they still borrow common elements from the pop/punk genre, the rock quartet explores new avenues and ways of doing things, even if just slightly, displaying some noticeable flickers of musical integrity. Although it lacks some of the more gutsy spiritual content that made their debut hard to ignore, Hawk Nelson's sophomore effort Smile, It's The End of The World is a solid rock record that should appease current fans and attract a few new ones that may have had difficulty warming up to their previous work.- Review date: 3/29/06, written by John DiBiase
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