Note: Chris told me in November of 2013 this wouldn’t be likely pressed due to low demand. While the context of the Twitter conversation revolved around Record Store Day, he was wrong. Checkmate, buddy.
It’s always funny to realize that most Fueled by Ramen releases in the mid-2000s were headed by band members on the cusp of the legal drinking age wrestling with lyrical themes ripe for school cafeteria politics. Cute Is What We Aim For’s lead vocalist Shaant Hacikyan alternates between blatant references to this social barometer (on opener “Newport Living,” he asks his audience to “just look at that clique/do you really wanna be the star of it?”) to feeble attempts at hiding behind weak metaphorical work that breaks under his crippling self-awareness (“Lyrical Lies” equates clothing to poetry with mixed results). When you’re 11 years old, as I was when The Same Old Blood Rush With a New Touch debuted, all these ineffective experiments in wordiness can go over your head.
To be honest, I probably shouldn’t have been listening to this album in middle school, at the apex of whatever hormonal balance was writhing inside me. Tracks like “Risque” and “Moan” promise exactly what their titles display; smirking headfirst dives into suburban romance, with the former a thin journey to a Hot Topic-grade Red Light District. “The Fourth Drink Instinct” paints a scene of an alcohol-soaked one-night stand. “I Put the Metro in ‘Metronome'” abuses the word “gents” so frequently that it almost seems like an updated bastardization of “ol’ sport” from The Great Gatsby.
It’s not to say this album doesn’t hold up as the pop-punk middleweight I grew up believing it was. “Finger Twist & Split” showcases some stellar mid-tempo reserve, with clean chords flirting with classical guitar noodling during the first chorus. This track, unfortunately, is one of the few with variation — vocals are multi-tracked in order to do some interesting things, and this lesson in pocketed instrumentation allows for more texture than the genre normally allowed. Parting shot “Teasing to Please (Left Side, Strong Side)” solidifies that Fueled by Ramen’s roster could close an album better than most of their followers in whatever you want to call this latest generation of pop-punk.
Alas, there are definite duds here. “Sweet Talk 101” delivers like Hollister-brand sugar water (if such a thing existed) and “There’s a Class for This” wins the award for Most Quotable AIM Away Message Lyrics: “Drama doesn’t follow me/it rides on my back/I may be ugly/but they sure love to stare,” a honor closely bested by “You check labels more/than the FCC.” Yikes.
I can’t really assess this record’s importance in any scene that doesn’t stock vinyl in a Hot Topic, but I can tell you, Cute Is What We Aim For’s lyrical and tonal seesawing did forecast what was next for Fueled by Ramen (and larger genre conventions). So much for just aiming to be cute.
Matt Squire’s crystal-clear production was a mainstay on this record (and countless others, like Panic! at the Disco’s emo-pop grenade A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out) and Enjoy the Ride has a pressing (on 140-gram vinyl) which retains all of these choices. You can hear the echo which closes out the vocal pout of “Newport Living.” Quieter moments like “Lyrical Lies” still shine despite their sparse arrangements and the louder moments like the radio-ready “The Curse of Curves” and the last leg of “Finger Twist & Split” keep their desired punch. There are moments of minimal surface noise, like audible pops bookending “Split” and leading into “Risque” on Side A, even after a thorough clean. The ends of sides are also greeted with a fair deal of crackle, but throughout the majority of the pressing, surface noise is absent.
In lieu of a traditional lyric insert, Enjoy the Ride has presented the album’s full lyrics and credits in a gatefold. That being said, the layout lends itself to a very small font size (rendered in all-caps). This seems lifted directly from the original CD booklet and the smallness of the text seems like a waste of the above-average presentation choice. There are little inconsistencies between the package’s back cover and the inner gatefold, as well. “Sweet Talk 101” is labeled “Sweet Talk” on the back cover and center label, but is correct in the gatefold. Furthermore, my copy seemed to be mislabeled, as Side A (referred to as “This Side” with Side A’s track listing underneath) actually led to Side B’s audio content when the needle dropped.
The reissue was pressed in a first run of 1,000 total copies, with 500 being exclusive to Enjoy the Ride’s webstore and the other 500 being exclusive to Hot Topic retailers. As for the webstore-exclusive colorways, the LP was available in ice clear with sea blue, hot pink and black splatter (pictured, limited to 100 copies, sold out), as well as hot pink and sea blue swirl with black and white splatter (limited to 150 copies, sold out) and is still available on hot pink and sea blue split with grey splatter vinyl (limited to 250 copies). Hot Topic will have 500 copies on sea blue and hot pink split wax. It’s commendable that every color on the outer jacket is well-represented across all variants. No digital download code is included.
Lyrical quirks aside, Cute is What We Aim For’s debut is a pop-punk record that deserves its place among Fueled by Ramen’s “golden era.” It’s no secret this record isn’t groundbreaking, but Enjoy the Ride deserves recognition for bringing it to vinyl for the first time. As for the pressing itself, a few packaging miscues and inconstancy in sound quality might not warrant a trip down memory lane for some.
“Finger Twist & Split,” “The Fourth Drink Instinct” and “Teasing to Please (Left Side, Strong Side)”
“The Same Old Blood Rush With a New Touch” is still available for purchase on hot pink and sea blue split with grey splatter vinyl over at Enjoy the Ride’s webstore. The Hot Topic variant is available here.