‘Tuned In’ review: Emblem3’s ‘Nothing’ has a little something going for it

Emblem3

Emblem3

'Nothing to Lose' by Emblem3

"Nothing to Lose" by Emblem3

The guys in Emblem3 aren’t like the other guys.

Until they are.

In less than a year’s time, the Southern-California-based trio of Washington-state natives has gone from finishing fourth on the U.S. edition of “The X Factor” to landing the opening spot on Selena Gomez’s upcoming tour, getting nominated for a 2013 Teen Choice Award and releasing their debut, “Nothing to Lose.”

Not bad for brothers Wesley and Keaton Stromberg and their long-time friend Drew Chadwick, who come across as an alternative to boy bands as well as a poor man’s version of a boy band as well as a straight-up boy band.

At its best, “Nothing to Lose” celebrates the American dream as these young men (ages 17 to 20) identify a demand (songs for boy-crazy girls recorded by seemingly girl-crazy boys) and offer a supply. At its worst, it exposes the disservice that network talent shows are doing to the music industry, and the competitors themselves, by giving a national platform to performers before they’re ready to be stars, potentially undercutting their careers instead of boosting them.

Thanks to producer Savan Kotecha (One Direction, Maroon 5, Usher), “Nothing to Lose” gives Emblem3 enough juice to succeed and carry on. There are legitimately good cuts here – the earthy, surf-rock flavored “Just for One Day” (which owes a little to David Bowie’s “Heroes”), and the tenacious “Girl Next Door” with its bold wall-of-sound production, fine singing and monster hook. And there are cut-and-paste songs whose formula goes over well with the mass market, like the “I believe in you”-messaged “Chloe (You’re the One I Want)” and the bossy anthem/pasta romanticizing “Spaghetti.”

Then there’s the forgettable stuff, nondescript filler songs that occupy the spaces between the memorable ones. At least only a few of them are aggressively bad (the mundane “Teenage Kings” and the double-flop of California-themed “I Love LA” and “Sunset Blvd”).

And although the act is undercooked, there does seem to be a lot happening under the surface as the group toys with reggae lilts, rock bluster, pop confections and light rap. Plus they get some songwriting credits, which is a positive sign.

So unlike other boy bands, Emblem3 goes more than one direction.

Unfortunately, that sometimes takes them down dead ends.

Rating: 2.5 stars (out of five)

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