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The Ataris - "Welcome the Night" (Sanctuary Records)

3.5 stars

By James F. Collins, Contributing Writer

After several tumultuous years of creative tensions, personal differences, and record label difficulties—not to mention a grand parting of ways—The Ataris have finally re-emerged with “Welcome the Night,” their sixth studio release. However, this phoenix lacks the fire to make it the glorious rebirth the pop-punk-cum-alternative band had planned for its first album since 2003.

Despite a strong effort by the recently resuscitated group (lead singer Kristopher Roe is the only original member remaining), you may be left wondering what’s become of The Ataris’ catchy, youthful sound. With this album, the band that left high school punk rock fans for the mainstream may even disappoint the squares who rocked out to “The Boys of Summer” and “In This Diary” from “Goodbye, Astoria.” Though the band’s Web site praises their hard work, calling the new record “easily the most daring, dazzling and inspiring Ataris album yet,” there is little proof in the pudding.

“Welcome the Night” is filled with moody, regret-stained lyrics, overpowering guitars, and generally standard-fare compositions. Though some may like the driving pace and dark pathos, there is little in the way of nuance or style. A few songs stand out, like head-bobbing “The Cheyenne Line” and “Begin Again from the Beginning,” but most of the tracks are formulaic and lack the edge the band once knew. Roe, whose writing here was influenced by a painful divorce and some personal hardships, is at times too much to bear. There’s so much “burning,” “fading,” and “lying” that one might wonder if this album was simply one grand emotional vent.

The first single off the album, “Not Capable of Love,” (its music video features Roe running over pedestrians in a pick-up truck), starts with a promising punch, but goes nowhere special. What the album really lacks is an element of surprise. After a few seconds of listening, it is pretty obvious where each song is going. “New Year’s Day” for instance, sounds like Matchbox 20 pop, but without the originality or heartfelt verses to back up its muscle-bound choruses.

The album is not entirely a lost cause. The latter tracks offer more depth than the dry and predictable first half. A few nuanced production details earn the band some style points, like the cool Rhodes solo conclusion to “Begin Again from the Beginning” and the soulful cello in “From the Last, Last Call.” Unfortunately, these elements are few and far between and the band’s alternative songwriting equation seems to have stagnated after the mainstream success of “Goodbye, Astoria.”

For a band that’s more like a temp-agency for rock musicians than a homegrown mainstay, it’s hard to expect a fully developed senior album. But, The Ataris could have done more with “Welcome the Night,” and if not revive their pop-punk roots, at least do justice to their alternative makeover. “Welcome The Night” comes off as a strained attempt to create a new sound that doesn’t suit a band that once wore spiked bracelets and bleached-blond hair. Perhaps Roe should have followed his own advice from the band’s 1999 anthem, “Losing Streak,” when he belted out so innocently, “Don’t ever compromise what you believe.”

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