Credit the lads of Audio Adrenaline with one thing: they know their target audience. From the time of their inception at Kentucky Christian College in the late 1980s (under the A-180 moniker) to the release of the career-spanning Adios album in 2006, front man Mark Stuart and his cohorts have consistently kept an eye on those in the under-20 contingent as they churned out one catchy, teen-friendly pop/rock anthem after another. While such an approach has hardly resulted in a non-stop stream of critical recognition and praise, it has nonetheless netted the hard-working band some two dozen Top 20 radio hits, album sales of over three million units and a place alongside the most popular Christian rock acts of the last two decades.
Recorded on April 28 at the Waikiki Shell amphitheater in Honolulu, the Farewell album finds the recently-disbanded AA collective, to paraphrase the Kinks, giving the young people what they want. Stuart's generous sharing of the microphone during the chorus of "Beautiful" offers an enticing opportunity for youthful audience members to experience the joys of lead singerdom firsthand. Likewise, most listeners will have little trouble envisioning row upon row of enthusiastic middle schoolers swaying, eyes closed and arms aloft, to the moving balladry of "Ocean Floor." "Until My Heart Caves In" taps expertly into the sense of innocent abandon that all too often dissipates with age. And songs like "Get Down" and the now-ubiquitous "Big House" are laced with the sort of simple, instantly-memorable choruses that that most youth group members will be able to sing, word for word, 25 years from now.
Their appeal to those in the yet-to-shave crowd notwithstanding, Stuart and his bandmates show themselves equally proficient at relating to those who cultivated their musical tastes during the ten years between the hippie era and the Reagan decade. The blistering album opener, "Clap Your Hands," is the sort of pure, unadulterated, sub-2:00, riff-driven rock `n roll that punk pioneers like the Ramones built entire careers upon. The loose, swaggering "Mighty Good Leader," on the other hand, warms its hands at the fire started by early `70s glam rock progenitors like Bolan and Bowie. Stuart's tongue-in-cheek cries of "that's the way, uh-huh, we like it" are sure to draw a knowing grin from those who spent many a Saturday night roller skating beneath a glittering disco ball. And the meaty, melodic guitar textures and crowd exhortations of "Hawaii, are you ready for some rock `n roll?" on the equally stellar "Worldwide" are lifted straight from the Gene Simmons/Paul Stanley playbook.
The energy level does wane considerably during the extended spoken intros to "Hands and Feet" and "King" – the sum total of which run over five minutes long. Likewise, talk show host Logan Sekulow's halting the sing-along portion of "Beautiful" to propose to his girlfriend is hardly the sort of thing most CD listeners will want to sit through more than once. The abovementioned lapses notwithstanding, the remainder of the record finds Stuart (noticeably hoarse thanks to vocal chord damage which ultimately prompted the band to call it a day) and his companions putting their songs across with the characteristic sense of reckless abandon that has endeared them to so many for so long. Given that it differs very little from the band's previous efforts, the new album probably won't do much to convert the naysayers. For existing fans, though, the Farewell album serves as a wonderful parting souvenir – one which perfectly captures the enthusiasm, sincerity and humor that have earned its creators their extended, and well-deserved, day in the sun.