LIGHTING UP Sparks the Rescue.

If there were those who thought Sparks the Rescue got a little too saccharine on their label debut, Eyes to the Sun, they may be somewhat mollified by the brand-new Worst Thing I've Been Cursed With, their first album with Fearless Records. While not quite a throwback to their screamo roots, it does bring more of that early edge back, evincing a band growing ever more comfortable with their own brand of radio pop rock as they show they can be incredibly listenable without being confectionary.

The songs still crackle with energy, still charge from the speakers with urgency, still nearly always feature choruses that are impossible to not sing along with. But the content is grittier and feels more real. Where Eyes to theSun at times detailed an idealized reality like you see in Disney movies (sometimes idealized can be fun: I'm still listening to that record two years later), Worst Thing feels more like a backstage pass to the last year of the band's life.

The opening "Saturday Skin" is certainly a statement. While modern culture has come a long way, building a love song around "your lip is pierced like mine is" purposely moves the band away from teen-bop (where "We Love Like Vampires" might have been in danger of putting them), and hoping for a partner to be "fucked and twisted up like you never had been" keeps them there.

There's some nuance in the rock, too, with '80s synth flavors in the opening rhythm guitar that clash nicely with the song's mean streak.

Even the album's first single, "She's a Bitch and I'm a Fool," appears designed to give a bit of a middle finger to the mainstream. It's one thing to have that line in the chorus, another to use it as your title. There's no doubt it's the single, though, especially considering Alex Roy's vocal hook in the chorus: "Felt like a movie when you walked out slowly." It quite literally gave me chills on the first couple of listens as he alters his pacing and arcs upward in the finish.

It also features the first of quite a few guitar solos (a couple of which feel just a bit "punched in" — looking forward to seeing this configuration live) from new guitarist Mike Naran, who lends some sneer to the group in general as a foil to Toby McAllister's hard-charging rhythm, even some appropriate hair-metal flavor from time to time, as on "Better Side of Me," which is punkish, too, in its aggression: "I'm pouring gasoline while she lights the match."

We get a verse here from Spose, even, and though he's not at his most outlandish, he's not pulling too many punches either: "Then we hopped in the whip, drove to the store/Took a bunch of drugs and then puked on the floor." More importantly, though, he's well integrated into the song as a whole — it's rap-rock, but it doesn't feel forced; it's funny, but Spose nicely mirrors Roy's ironic humor.

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