Reviews

‘Young & Dangerous’ – The Struts

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Release Year: 2018

The Struts live up to their larger than life attitude on their second album, Young & Dangerous. The highly anticipated follow up to their 2014 debut finds them doing what they do best: glam rock songs about having a good time. While you won’t find anything drastically different from their previous output, they do take the time to branch out. They shake up their established sound by experimenting with different styles and genres, yet never stray too far from their glam roots.

The album kicks off with “Body Talks,” which has all the elements of a great Struts song: a catchy hook, Luke Spiller’s sensual vocals, and a playful vibe. The remix with Kesha is decent, but she doesn’t add much aside from some random yelps. “Primadonna Like Me” is another high energy, fun song with Spiller playing the role of a rockstar that knows he’s hot shit. Their glam rock sound is bigger with raucous music and an infectious hook. Songs like these perfectly capture what the band is about and their over the top persona, which feels made for huge crowds.

Listening to tracks like “Bulletproof Baby” and “Tatler Magazine” it’s clear The Struts have their sights set on playing stadiums. The hooks are fun to sing, the songs capture their energetic air, and feel crafted with larger crowds in mind. And their frequent use of gang vocals gives the tracks an anthemic quality. Unlike other bands with similar aspirations, The Struts don’t comprise their established sound for something generic and safe. Instead, they push their feel-good vibe even harder, yet leaves room for some change.

Though they mainly stick with their glam rock vibe, there are a few moments where they get outside their comfort zone. “Who Am I” mixes their glam rock vibes with a healthy dose of disco. Similar to other tracks, the hook is catchy and fun while the music gets you moving. And of course, Spiller’s tongue in cheek wordplay is still intact making it an album highlight. Spiller throws you for a loop on “I Do It So Well” when he opens the song with his spoken word style that’s more like rapping. It’s a bit strange but ultimately works for the track. “Freak Like You” is a mini-musical. Clearly influenced by Queen, the band celebrates the outcasts, misfits, and freaks pulling away from their glam rock sound and playing around with their sound, such as the unexpected sax solo.

We even get to see the more serious side of the band on tracks like “Somebody New” and “Ashes.” The former finds Spiller lamenting the loss of a relationship while admitting he’s not ready for someone else. Rather than being flamboyant, he expresses a quiet sadness. He sounds bittersweet as he sings “It’s not that I don’t feel the feelings you do/It’s just my heart’s not ready yet/For somebody new” giving us a rare side of the singer. “People” is another moment where the band sets aside their wild attitude. Written about overcoming everyday struggles different people face, it’s meant to be an uplifting moment on the album. It definitely sounds like an anthem but isn’t as gripping as the rest of the album.

“Ashes” has a similar moody tone. Serving as the counterpart to the celebratory “Fire,” it’s another somber track about the consequences of living fast and partying hard and how someone’s life was lost in the end. Though it deals with a heavy topic, the band brings back their musical sensibilities with sections that change the style. One part it’s a serious ballad, the next it’s a bouncing cabaret. You definitely get some “Bohemian Rhapsody” vibes from it, yet it doesn’t sound like a Queen rip off. It’s a strangely fitting way to end the album as if to say life isn’t always one huge party.

Young & Dangerous is a blast to listen to. It’s more of the glitzy, glam rock goodness we love from The Struts. However, they do branch out trying different sounds to keep things from getting stale or sounding too much like their debut. Every moment is captivating from the high energy dance anthems to the serious reflective moments. Filled with infectious music, the band’s devil-may-care attitude and hooks made for stadiums, it’s a high-energy, feel-good album we desperately need right now.

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“Over It” – Bullet For My Valentine

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Release Year: 2018

Rating: 5.5/10

Bullet For My Valentine have been one of my favorite metal bands since The Poison. I love the way they mix intense, technical riffs with melodic moments yet keep the aggressive mood. So when they announced a new song, I was ecstatic. Venom was a great follow up to the disappointment that was Temper Temper. I couldn’t wait to hear the next blistering track the band had in store. Sadly, it’s one of their weakest songs.

“Over It” is such a disappointment. It’s not terrible, but it’s a forgettable track. All the excitement, anger, aggression, and thrills that make up a Bullet song are missing. The opening isn’t bad; the intro riff and slower pace is something a bit different for a lead single, but I kept waiting for the moment when the song kicked into high gear and came alive; it never happened.

The music is dull and bland. It sounds like it could by any rock band on the radio. There’s very little about it that commands your attention and pulls you in. After hearing it a few times I thought “Eh, it’s okay I guess.” The lack of screaming vocals makes it worse. I’m not saying they need to take over the whole song; you just want more of them.  The brief moment they appear, you realize how much they’re missing. The song also lacks their signature riffs and solos.

The thing that gets me excited for a Bullet song are the insane riffs and solos. Michael Paget is a beast on the guitar and always shows off his skill with fiery, dizzying solos. And the riffs themselves are memorable. Think back to songs like “Room 409” or “Waking the Demon.” Those riffs instantly grab you and suck you in. All of this is missing on this song. The guitar isn’t bad, but it sounds pretty average. It doesn’t have that Padge stamp and is lacking the excitement, fire, and aggression. It’s another generic riff we’ve heard on other rock songs.

Everything about the track is weak, especially the lyrics. Bullet aren’t amazing songwriters, but they’ve made more compelling tracks than this. The lyrics are cliché and sound more fitting coming from an angsty teen. And some of them are baffling, particularly the bridge: “Breathe in/breathe out/don’t wanna ride your carousel.” The song also follows this formula Bullet has fallen into over the years: intro riff, quiet music while Matt sings “angry lyrics,” exploding, distorted hook, return to verse, breakdown, repeat.

“Over It” is Bullet at their weakest. Even Temper Temper sounds better than this. It’s a bland, generic song that has none of their signature riffs, solos, or aggression. It’s tolerable on its own, but it doesn’t get you excited for their upcoming album. There’s nothing memorable about this song. You’ll struggle to remember the hook after hearing it a few times. Hopefully, this isn’t representative of the entire record. I’m still looking forward to hearing more from them, but for now, my expectations for Gravity are low.

Man of the Woods – Justin Timberlake

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Release Year: 2018

Rating: 6/10

When I first saw Justin Timberlake’s rugged, I’m-an-outdoors-man promo for Man of the Woods, I was not happy. I didn’t want down to Earth Justin. I wanted Sexyback Justin. Luckily, the album isn’t stepped in folksy roots as the promos made it out to be. Unfortunately, the album isn’t that good. The main problem is there are no songs that stand out, grab your attention, and make you want to crank it up whenever you hear it. The closest we get is lead single “Filthy,” which is just weird and takes a while to grow on you before you start singing it.

Songs like “Man of the Woods,” “Midnight Summer Jam,” “Wave,” and “Higher Higher” are fine but pretty generic. Once the album ends you don’t remember them until you play the LP again. They have decent music and some pretty good hooks, but there’s nothing exciting about them. “Say Something” featuring Chris Stapleton is an unexpected highlight. It’s got just the right amount of a country vibe to please country fans and non-fans alike. Plus, Stapleton and Timberlake sound great together.

Most of the songs are inoffensive and not bad to listen to, but they’re just there. “Montana” may have a 70s inspired groove, but it sounds too similar to the rest of the songs on the record. “Morning Light” featuring Alicia Keys is nice but gets boring pretty quickly. The rest of the tracks like “Breeze Off the Pound,” “The Hard Stuff,” and “Livin’ Off the Land” are hard to discern from one another since they sound so similar. And seeing as they’re the closest thing to Timberlake’s newfound persona, they don’t really do much for the record.

Other songs are just cringy. “Sauce” features the unfortunate line of “I like your pink/you like my purple,” which is wrong on so many levels. It also features him doing a shoddy Prince imitation, which is hard to sit through. “Supplies” is even worse. Timberlake attempts a trap song filled with generic hip-hop music and an annoying hook. It’s so out of left field, it doesn’t fit on the album. And it’s hard to take “Flannel,” an ode to a fucking shirt, seriously. He actually sings the line “But if I’m bein’ selfish, that gave me a reason to be there/With my flannel on.” The preceding interlude featuring his wife Jessica Biel is even worse. She talks about wearing his shirt and how makes her feel like a woman. It will make you roll your eyes.

Man of the Woods is a definite miss for Timberlake. While there are a handful of decent songs, the album severely lacks the fun, must-listen-to dance hits he’s become known for. Most of the songs are generic or just plain dull. After hearing the album a few times, I couldn’t care about it anymore. It’s not the weird, earthly vibe we thought it would be. Even worse, it’s a boring, generic safe record for Timberlake.

Worst Album of 2016

This is What the Truth Feels Like – Gwen Stefani

I was never a huge No Doubt fan growing, but I’ve come to like them more over time along with Gwen Stefani. There was a point when she was the epitome of cool in alt rock. Her solo music is vastly different from what she did with No Doubt, but it’s still catchy, enjoyable, and fun. When she dropped two singles in 2015, I was pretty excited to hear what her next album was going to sound like. I actually dug Love.Angel.Music.Baby, but didn’t care for The Sweet Escape. Turns out, I hated  even more.

It feels kind of harsh calling this the worst of the year, but out of everything I sought out and listened to, this is the album I hated the most. I’ll admit, most of the songs are unoffending. Some are even pretty good, like the hypnotic “You’re My Favorite,” but once I got to songs like “Naughty” and “Red Flag” I couldn’t take anymore. I thought she was joking. The horrible rap segments, the sad attempt at trying to keep up with the trends, and the ridiculous lyrics made the rest of the record laughable. She tries to hang with Fetty Wop on “Asking 4 It” and comes off awkward while her other attempts at rapping are just sad.

What’s most annoying is her pretending she’s still this rebellious, bad ass we came to love in the 90s. It’s fine if Stefani has grown up and is more comfortable following the herd now. But it feels like she’s pretending she’s still alternative like she was back in the day. With tracks like “Asking 4 It” and “Rare” it seems like she’s trying to hold on to her edgy title, when that’s not who she is anymore. And that’s fine.

When the album isn’t delving into horrible rap, it’s just bland and dull making you think “meh” as you listen to it. Very few of the songs are interesting. The rest follow the same pop music trends as everyone else. There’s even a few songs you’d think were outtakes from Madonna’s Rebel Heart. This is What the Truth Feels Like was hardly worth the 10 year wait. Hopefully, her next effort will be interesting and bring back some weirdness to pop music. But considering her last few releases, it doesn’t look too promising.

Love Gloom – Night Riots

Release Year: 2016

Rating: 8/10

Night Riots stole my heart when I saw them live with Blaqk Audio earlier this year. Their fusion of synth pop, rock, and electronic made their music irresistible. I picked up their 2015 EP Howl right away and impatiently waited for their debut album, Love Gloom. I was a bit surprised when I finally got my hands on it; it has a different vibe, mood, and feel than their previous release. It’s not drastically different, but there are some changes.

For one thing, Howl is upbeat, fun, and danceable the whole way through. But Love Gloom allows the band to explore other sounds and avenues. There are still insanely catchy jams like the popular “Contagious” and “Work It.” The latter isn’t Travis Hawley’s best singing effort, he sounds a bit too stained, but the song is still bouncy and fun. “Nothing Personal” is another catchy track blistering with lust and desire. Hawley has a vampiric presence and this comes out best on this song when he sings lines like “Numb yourself and think of me” or “I’ll be the king, you’ll be the filth/I’ll wash away.” It sounds like he’s trying to hypnotize us. It’s one of the most gripping and catchy songs on the album.

Aside from this, the rest of the album is kind of slow and melancholic. Previously, the band described their music as “pop gloom” and that’s exactly what it is. “Fangs” is pretty upbeat, but steeped in darkness and the macabre. The hook pleads “So stick your fangs, fangs, fangs/into me” bringing up images of vampires, albeit sexy ones. Similar to their other songs, this one also drips with lust and desire – it’s something Night Riots effortlessly convey in a good chunk of their songs. It’s a sort of dark romanticism they explore on this track.

The excellent “Don’t Kill the Messenger” might as well be their love letter to Depeche Mode. The shuddering bass, booming drums, and somber guitars makes it sound like it was written for the iconic band. It also has a brooding nature that plays into their melancholic side. The track stands out for its more aggressive tone and heavy hitting nature. Everything gets more intense as the track continues. It has a big sound making it one of the most satisfying songs on the record. Plus, it’s pretty catchy. After one listen, the song will burrow itself in your head.

Breaking Free” is where we start to hear the band’s softer side on the album. It’s another stellar track filled with lush tones and atmospheric music that makes it feel like you’re under water. The rolling drums that occasionally pop up give it some extra flair. It’s another brooding track talking about breaking out of a relationship. Something about it is warm and relaxing even though the lyrics aren’t exactly the most uplifting: It’s beautiful, yet haunting quality makes it one of the highlights of the album.

As previous songs have shown, Night Riots take great inspiration from 80s music. It was all over their EP and it’s all over this album, but they use the New Wave influences in a subtle way. The ballad “All for You” has this big, 80s anthem vibe to it. The dreamy guitars, far away sound, and relaxing melody makes you think of Tears for Fears, who they’ve covered in concert. To keep the song from getting too dull, the bridge comes alive, bursting with guitar and drums. It’s a soft, sweet song about being there for one another. “Tear Me Apart” starts with a weird, stuttering synth that instantly grabs your attention. This song feels directly tied to the title: the mood is somber and gloomy as Hawley laments the end of a relationship. Some of it is cliché, like the lyric “Where does it start/where does it end/I’m losing my best friend/tear me apart,” but it’s pretty forgivable. The track also has this ghostly vibe to it with ethereal singing, other world music, and a cold vibe infiltrating the entire song.

This slow, doom-laden mood continues on tracks “Pull Me Down,” which has a Gothic quality to the lyrics and “Everything Will be Alright,” which is haunting and a little eerie as Hawley sings “lately I feel undone.” Though the songs are slower, the 80s synth elements aren’t abandoned. Rather they play smaller roles in the music popping in the background or playing softly to make the song come alive. Instead of being the focal point, they’re used to add to the song’s flavor and sound. Listeners get a break from the constant wave of gloom with the upbeat “End of the World,” which starts with more attention-grabbing synth that’ll get stuck in your head.

The closing track, “As You Are,” has elements that are likable along with some questionable bits. The opening is too slow and sappy for my tastes. Lines like “Don’t change for me/you got nothing to fix/you’re not broken” end up sounding a bit corny. But what saves the song is the beautiful, symphonic quality to it. As Hawley sings, strings swell up around him making the song pretty and heartbreaking. This paired with the way he croons “Meet me as you are” is enough to give you chills. It’s a somber song; Hawley sounds like he’s at the end of his rope, which makes the final line “I let you down/ betrayed you” hit even harder. It’s not the best track on the album, but it’s a fitting close.

Love Gloom wasn’t what I thought it was going to be. There weren’t as many upbeat, catchy, danceable songs as on their previous release. Yet, it remains a strong, thoughtful debut. The upbeat songs are still there, showing Night Riots know how to make you dance. But the slower tracks laden with darkness and of course, gloom, show another side of the band. The album is a melancholic affair; something you put on when the sky is grey and leaves start to fall. Some of it is brooding, some of it is fun, but the whole thing is honest. That’s part of what makes it so appealing. Many of the songs may not grip you right away, but if you give it a chance, you’ll find a great debut that’s not afraid of the darkness, which we all need to embrace from time to time.