by Drew Boehmker/@IfUSeekDrew
If your mid-2000s self was anything like mine, around that time you found yourself in a strange musical dilemma; you were becoming a bit too cool for some of the pop goddesses you had loved in the ‘90s, but at the same time found the radio becoming increasingly (annoyingly) hip-hop-oriented—I mean let’s be honest, there are only so many times a person can hear “Candy Shop” before they go clinically insane.
It is somewhere in this strange musical purgatory circa 2004 that I first discovered Ryan Cabrera, and he (and his music) saved me from myself.
Yes, that Ryan Cabrera. The one best known for his on-again, off-again relationship with Ashlee Simpson (chronicled in the creatively titled MTV series The Ashlee Simpson Show), sometimes ridiculous hairstyle, and—most importantly—infectiously catchy single “On the Way Down.”
Yet beneath the petty drama of that mid-2000s reality show and spiked haircut there was Take It All Away, Cabrera’s 2004 major-label debut album. And when it came to brainstorming ideas for throwback albums to feature in this column, this album was near the top of the list simply because I used to blare it all. the. time. On my Discman on the way to high school freshman year, at one of my first “high school parties,” and, yes, even while spending endless hours on AOL Instant Messenger (I can’t even begin to imagine the number of times I made a lyric from this album my away message).
With that in mind, I was excited to give this item another spin-through to see if it still held up to the lofty standards established by my fourteen-year-old self.
The verdict? It did … kind of.
There’s no denying that Cabrera’s label (Atlantic) did a great job of picking the singles from Take It All Away, most of which are found at the front end of the album. “On the Way Down” remains an amazingly catchy pop rock anthem—though whether the song was written about Ashlee Simpson or God remains a debate of the ages for song meanings.
“True,” the second single, is objectively probably the best song on Take It All Away, likely because Cabrera’s vocals are better-suited for quiet, more acoustically-driven songs as opposed to arena-filling anthems. In fact, his vocals are so much better on these kinds of “smaller” songs that my present day self actually found the acoustic version of “On the Way Down” (found as the last track on the album) to be superior to the original.
As far as the rest of the songs on Take It All Away go (aka all of the songs you’ve never heard if you aren’t a Ryan Cabrera fan), it’s a pretty mixed bag. “Exit to Exit” is an amazing driving jam that still routinely gets put on my road trip playlists and is definitely worthy of checking out if you haven’t listened to the album before. “She’s” is a Kara DioGuardi-penned ballad about a lost love that I found myself enjoying considerably more now than I did back in 2004. Finally, “Illusions” is a midtempo alt-rock jam written by John Rzezknik of the Goo Goo Dolls that is worthy of a listen if you’re a fan of that band (or even just their sound).
The rest of the songs didn’t really hold up quite as well as I remember them. They aren’t necessarily bad by any means—they just aren’t particularly memorable. The second half of the album definitely has some filler material, with songs like “Echo Park” that sound tailor-made to be placed over a musical montage on a teen drama television show (One Tree Hill, anyone?). I think it speaks volumes that I used to routinely listen through this album without skipping a track yet could barely remember the words to some of the lesser-known songs now.
So while from the musical standpoint of today Take It All Away may be sort of “take it or leave it,” as a snapshot of the mid-2000s zeitgeist it is still worth listening to. And if you don’t believe me, just take a quick glance at all of the throwback promotion for the album being done on Ryan Cabrera’s Facebook page … I’m pretty sure they want you to rediscover the album far more than I do.
Final Verdict (Classic or Clunker?): Classic
Essential Tracks to Check Out: “On the Way Down” (it still holds up), “Exit to Exit” (clutch road trip jam), “True,” “She’s”