Album Review

Musical Rant: My Distant Relationship with Blink-182

My relationship with Blink-182 has been strained ever since Matt Skiba took over for Tom DeLonge. Nothing against him; the guy actually gels really well with the band. But no matter how many times I listen to their newer stuff, I just can’t get into it.

The band isn’t the same to me. Though I didn’t hate California, I quickly grew tired of it and after my initial review, I haven’t listened to any of the songs since. I was baffled with the deluxe version boasting a second disc with what boils down to another album. With every preview and song they released, I slowly realized I didn’t care. But I was still mildly curious about the second disc and gave it a listen. I was surprised I liked it more than the original album, but it also drove home how much I don’t care about this band anymore.

When the band announced California Deluxe, I didn’t get it. Why reissue an album that’s not even a year old? And if they had so much material, why not release it on its own? It didn’t make sense to me. Whereas in the past, the thought of an expanded Blink album would be amazing, this time it felt pointless. Still, I was curious to see if the new music was worth it. And it’s not bad. None of the songs are outright terrible, but very few managed to grip me. “Misery” was okay, but felt like I was reading cringe-worthy teen poetry, “Good Old Days” has a strong hook and great energy, but is tiring due to the overused “let’s get nostalgic” theme. “Don’t Mean Anything” is repetitive and weak when compared to the rest of the songs and “Hey I’m Sorry” is forgettable, but has a good energy and vibe. And “Can’t Get You More Pregnant” is just dumb and pointless.

Still, most of the songs have more substance than those on California. Though most of them aren’t that interesting, they aren’t generic. They feel genuine, even the ones that sound like teen angst. Reading through the lyrics I didn’t roll my eyes nearly as much as I did with the previous LP. Even though I didn’t like most of the songs, I can stand to hear them, as long as they don’t deal with looking back (“Parking Lot”). It’s a trend Blink’s been on that I’m sick of. I get it, they’re older, they want to reflect, but we already got that with California. Let’s move on.

Luckily, there’s some promise to the album. “Wildfire” and “Bottom of the Ocean” are great songs – probably the best of the new Blink era. Some of these songs remind you of older Blink – lots of fun, great fast music, and a good hook. “6/8” is a standout song that’s heavy as hell. It almost sounds like a b-side from Untitled. Everything about it is awesome from the in your face aggression to the way Matt sounds like he’s screaming from miles away. The odd 6/8 structure really helps the song stand out and creates this cool, yet odd, flow.

So yeah, I like the second disc better than California. At the same time, I realize I don’t care what Blink does anymore. I couldn’t even find much to say about this release. Whereas before I would relish any news involving them and devour every single song they released, I didn’t give a shit this time. They kept posting songs from the Deluxe version and I ignored them. Their new stuff doesn’t hit that sweet spot. With Tom, they had a style all their own. Now, they sound like every other “pop-punk” band out there. Seeing their name doesn’t bring about that same sense of excitement. Rather, it’s more of a disappointment.

Though many disagree, I still think Tom is an essential part of the band. He had a certain sound and vibe that Blink is currently lacking. They just don’t sound the same. They’re different now and that’s okay. They are allowed to change and I’m happy the band is continuing to make music. It’s just not for me. I can’t exactly say if my missing Tom is what makes me dislike their new stuff; maybe it does. All I know is I don’t feel that same happiness and excitement when I hear them now. Maybe over time, this will change and I see these albums in a more favorable light. But I can’t pretend that I care about what’s going on with them now. They can still make exciting music as some of the songs show, but they’re still trying to find the right direction. I will always love Blink-182, but at this point, I’m moving on.

Musical Quickie: 8 – Incubus

Release Year: 2017

Rating: 6/8

Incubus‘ eighth album, 8, finds the band playing it safe. It’s business as usual for the guys and it’s nothing exciting. Songs like “State of the Art” and “Familiar Faces” are unoffending, but don’t keep your attention for long. You may not skip them while listening to the album, but would you seek them out on your own? Probably not. There are a handful of exciting tracks, like “Nimble Bastard,” “No Fun,” and “Glitterbomb,” which all have strong hooks. The rest of the songs are forgettable or pale imitations of what they’ve done in the past.

There’s not a lot that’s exciting about this album. While none of the songs are outright bad, they just make you go “meh.” It leaves you with little to say about it. It’s a shame the album is so unremarkable since they seemed to be going in the right direction with the Trust Fall (Side A) EP. They at least tried some new things. Here, they stick with routine and it’s pretty boring. Save for a handful of songs, there isn’t much to this album. In the end, 8 is just okay and pretty forgettable.

 

Eternity In Your Arms – Creeper

Release Year: 2017

Rating: 8.5/10

Rock music has gone through numerous changes since its inception, but somewhere along the way, it lost its theatrics. Rockstars no longer seem larger than life, mysterious, or alien. Creeper is here to change that. These theatrical punks from Southhampton, UK are taking you back to the days when rock music was a spectacle. Not only is their music over the top and filled with Gothic drama, they’re creating a mythos and extend an offer to join their Creeper Cult. With dark imagery, a healthy dose of punk rock, and a dash of theater, these punks are making rock music fun again.

Creeper is all about theatrics. You can hear every ounce of drama, camp, fear, and desire in their songs whether it’s from the music or frontman Will Gould’s vocals. Their songs are like mini-macabre plays circling around themes of love, death, loss, loneliness, and frustration. The album itself is a loose concept record based on the characters Madeline, The Stranger, and James Scythe, which were first mentioned on their second EP, The Callous Heart. While the story is easy enough to pick up after a few listens, it doesn’t make or break the record. You could easily listen to it without realizing the songs are connected. In the end, the story doesn’t really matter because everything else about the album is so damn good.

The opening track “Black Rain” perfectly captures what Creeper is about. It has a gloomy, Gothic intro featuring a brief mysterious monologue before exploding in a mass of shredding guitars and crashing keys. The best part is the big chorus which sounds like a choir from the depths of darkness singing “And in the rain/I screamed your name.” It has an awesome anthemic quality; you can easily picture a stadium singing this song. Though it’s one of the album’s highlights, there are moments where it reminds you of My Chemical Romance’s “Helena.” It’s forgivable, though.

Poison Pens” doesn’t let you relax for a second with its pummeling drums, doom-laden bass, and rapid guitars. It’s a hyper punk track that’ll get you moshing as soon you hear “Our love is dead!” screaming in your ears. The bridge gives you a chance to catch your breath when things slow down and Gould sings “I fell like an angel for you/now I do the deeds that devils do” sounding sinister and ready to strike. The off the rails pace and AFI-inspired gang vocals make it one of the most thrilling tracks on the album. “Suzanne” is another high energy track with a similar punk edge full of morbid imagery. The song instantly hooks you with its rallying cry of “now now now now!” along with the Meatloaf-esque hooks. These over the top vocals are part of their campy appeal and helps them stand out in the deluge of forgettable punk rock bands.

Hiding With Boys” is another insanely fun song that shows off a bit of the band’s glam-rock influences. This one is more upbeat and doesn’t have as much of an edge as the other tracks. The hook of “hiding with the boys in your bedroom” has an infectious melody and is just fun to sing at the top of your lungs. The music is kind of playful and the extensive keys give the song more of a classic feel, as if you heard it before, which isn’t necessarily bad.

But just when you have the band figured out, they switch gears showing another side to themselves. “Misery” keeps its gloomy nature with the subdued acoustic guitar accompanying Gould’s fragile vocals slowing things down considerably. With just Gould and a guitar, for the most part, it’s the most honest track on the album. The Gothic nature of the band shows up in coy lines like “I wrote down a list of coroners/their names, their office phone numbers/to pronounce dead the thing we had” and the hook “misery never goes out of style.”  Near the end, the music intensifies and Gould’s vocals are more pronounced and powerful as if he’s found the will to go on despite all the bad things happening. This shift nicely changes things, keeping the song from getting dull.

Creeper gives us another intimate moment with “Crickets,” sung by keyboardist Hannah Greenwood. Unlike most of the record, this song has a hint of a country vibe, especially with the accompanying violin in the background. Greenwood absolutely kills the song with her pretty, yet gritty vocals. You can feel her ache as she sings about the end of a relationship. The song is an unexpected treat from the band. Not only do these songs give us a break from the onslaught of raging guitars and dark matter, they show how the band can go beyond their comfort zone. They’re not just another band keen on loud guitars and screaming vocals.

While most of the songs are fun, catchy, and stand out, the two low points of the album are “Down Below” and “Winona Forever.” These songs aren’t bad; they’re both upbeat and fun like the other tracks with their sing-a-long hooks and bouncy rhythms. They’re just not that memorable compared to the rest of the album. The band quickly gets back on track with “Darling” and “Room 309,” which continue the trend of raging guitars, big hooks, and lots of drama. Here, it’s hard not hear their musical influences. You can easily pick up traces of AFI, MCR, Misfits, and Alkaline Trio. Is this bad? Not really. It’s clear they’re inspired by these bands, but at least they avoid sounding like cheap knockoffs.

Creeper excels at bringing camp and theatrics to their music, which is part of the reason it’s so much fun. Everything feels over the top from the music to the lyrics, which would sound cheesy anywhere else. The huge dramatics come out the most during closing track “I Choose to Live.” Here, they rip out a page from Queen’s book and feature larger than life music with a booming chorus. One of the most personal songs on the record, it deals with overcoming life’s struggles. Gould starts out singing softly as if defeated. But as we crescendo, his voice gains strength until he’s shouting “I choose to live” at the top of his lungs. It ends the album on an oddly positive note, letting you know no matter what you’re going through, you’re strong enough to survive.

Eternity in Your Arms is a hodgepodge of all the bands Creeper loves and has been influenced by. While they are mostly inspired by punk rock, you can hear traces of emo, glam, pop, and, dare I say, country. This is what helps them stand out. These elements are found all over their songs, keeping the album fresh and exciting. Featuring big hooks, lots of gang vocals, and a touch of Gothic and emo tendencies, their songs are grandiose, a spectacle even. It brings you back to the days when rockstars were meant to be bigger than life or aliens from another planet altogether. Sure, what they’re doing isn’t necessarily breaking genres, but man is it fun.

Spirit – Depeche Mode

Release Year: 2017

Rating: 7/10

I’ve always been impressed with how solid Depeche Mode’s later era albums are. Most bands still going over 30 years lose that something that made them special and start churning out mediocre material. While none of Mode’s later albums hit me like their early stuff, they’re still pretty impressive. So I was pretty psyched when they announced Spirit. When I got my hands on it, I found another solid record that finds the band turning their gaze outward instead of in. The band offers a damning commentary on what’s going on in the world. This isn’t the first time they’ve done it; look at “People Are People,” but it’s their most politically charged effort. Though their commentary is often blistering, it’s often too much and doesn’t make for a wholly satisfying album.

The album opens with the rousing “Going Backwards,” one of the strongest songs on the album. It’s booming opening making you think of an army marching in the field sets up the dark mood of the song. The lyrics find Dave Gahan calling out our society and how despite all our progress, we keep moving backwards: “We are not there yet/We have not evolved/We have no respect/We have lost control.” It’s eerily appropriate to what’s happening now with political tensions running high and the rights of people being threatened. Though it’s not an in-your-face song, there’s still a lot of anger and frustration channeling through the song. They’re clearly fed up with what’s going on and this can speak to those who feel the same. It’s a blistering track that’ll get your fist pumping for change by the end of it. Its political nature sets the tone for most of what’s to come.

I was never really sold on lead single “Where’s the Revolution?” Though I really like the dark, futuristic synth music, this song doesn’t thrill me or get me going like their other material. It has a well-meaning message: get off your ass, stop complaining, and make a change. Still, it never really got me excited for the album. And the bridge where they repeat “The train is coming/get on board/the engine’s humming” made me roll my eyes. They couldn’t be serious with that part, right? I get the metaphor they’re going for, but it’s too on the nose and comes off as awkward. Though it’s not my favorite, I do appreciate the song for its lyrics like “Who’s making your decisions/you or your religion” that, again, reflects what’ we’ve been going through on a daily basis.

According to Gore, most of the album was written over the course of two years, yet it sounds like it was written for the Trump take over. While the commentary they offer is appreciated, it does get tiring. The band has touched on political issues in the past with songs like “People Are People” and “Everything Counts,” but they’ve never done it to the extent they do it here. Just because they usually don’t make political statements in their songs doesn’t mean they shouldn’t ever do it, but the way the band goes about it isn’t necessarily subtle. The biting track “Scum” finds the band attacking someone and begging them to “pull the trigger” that instantly makes you think of Trump. It’s one of the more memorable tracks even though some parts are disjointed, which can be off-putting. The slow burning “The Worst Crime” looks at what’s happening and blames it all on misinformation and stupidity that we’re all to blame. These songs aren’t bad, but after repeated listens you get tired. After a while you think we get it, we’re fucked. Can we dance now?

Luckily, not everything is focused on the political climate of the world. Things properly pick up with the infectious “You Move.” The song hooks you instantly with its heavy groove and sexy vibe. The lyrics fit more in tune with past Depeche Mode topics: unbridled lust, love, and temptation. The track is one of the few that gets you excited and makes you want to dance. Sounding like a leftover from Delta Machine, “So Much Love to Give” gives the album a much needed energy boost. The upbeat synth and the memorable hook makes it a fun diversion from the blackness the album is steeped in. Providing a bit of optimism, lyrics like “You can forsake me/try to break me/But you can’t shake me/no” shows it’s not the end yet; we still have a fighting chance. “Poison Heart” isn’t all that upbeat, but it’s another notable cut from the record. It lures you in with its stuttering, Blues inspired riff and opens with Gahan’s throaty vocals singing “You have poison in your heart/I’m sure of it.” A track about a nasty relationship coming to an end, it’s nothing spectacular, but it stands out from the other heavy tracks.

Honestly, there isn’t a song I outright hate on the album. Sadly, most of them aren’t that notable or are just a drag. “Poorman” has a harrowing opening filled with doom laden music and eerie harmonies of “Heeeey” that sound like ghostly apparitions. It’s another politically charged song about corporations only looking out for themselves, which we pretty much know. It’s not bad, but doesn’t really add much to the album. “Cover Me” is another slow song with somber music and gloomy lyrics about not reaching that other life. It actually makes me think of the end of the world. The highlight here is the dreamy, atmospheric music that gets an extended play near the end. Again, not terrible but nothing stellar. “Eternal” and “Fail” are both Gore solo spots that are decent, but again, nothing amazing. The former has a similar vibe to “I Want You Now” with Gore expressing his love, while sounding sinister and diabolic. The latter is another song damning where our society is and condemning all of us ending the album on a depressing note.

So is the album as bad as some critics said? Not really, but it’s not as great as some are claiming either. I appreciate the band’s efforts to comment what’s going on in the world. Some of the lyrics on those songs are poignant and thoughtful.  That being said, at times it does feel like you’re being bashed in the head with these messages. I applaud the band for going out of their comfort zone and showing that they’re willing to try different things. That’s a least a plus for this album. But it can be a bit tiring at times, which could be how they’re presented as slow, brooding tracks that drag on and on. It leaves you feeling hopeless at times. Putting political messages aside, most of the songs don’t pack the same punch and excitement of their other material. Even the tracks on their last album were more exciting. There are a handful of memorable tracks, but most of them don’t hit that sweet Mode spot even though they’re well meaning. Many of the songs I can’t picture myself listening to again outside of the record. Like many of their modern records, it’s solid and has some great moments. But does it live up to expectations? Not really.

Everybody Wants – The Struts

 

Release Year: 2014

Rating: 8.5/10

While scrolling through various music sites, I saw The Struts’ name pop up now and then, but I didn’t pay much attention. I got my first taste of them at Lollapalooza 2016 and man, are they amazing. As soon as I got home I grabbed a copy of their album and fell in love. There’s a reason why they’re climbing up the ranks of rock music. Looking like a blast from the past, their music brings the fun and sexy back to rock music. From start to finish the album keeps you moving and singing, making it impossible to feel anything but good.

The Struts get the party started with the energetic “Roll Up.” It has a steady build up making you pumped for what’s about to come. Frontman Luke Spiller starts singing about the day in the life of a rock star. Right away you get a sense of his fun, playful vocal style, very reminiscent of the late Freddie Mercury. Everything explodes when the hyper hook of “Everybody wants/everybody wants/roll up/roll up” hits. Hearing the hook along with the rocking music gets you bouncing from start to finish. At the end of this song you’re rocking out and ready for more. Luckily, the band keeps the hits rolling with the anthemic “Could Have Been Me.”

With its big hook, driving music, and ferocious hand claps “Could Have Been Me” is made for stadiums. It’s a song everyone can get behind not only for its catchy hook but for its overall message. Spiller sings about living life and not wasting time wondering “what if?” It’s about doing what you want and having no regrets. Listening to it, you can picture thousands of people singing along while stomping out the beat. The band’s vintage rock sound comes out on the sexy and fun “Kiss This.” Spiller is playful yet sassy as he talks about getting fed up in a relationship and finally leaving. And it’s impossible not to be infected by the simple refrain of “uh uh uh uh uh kiss this!” It’s the perfect fuck off song to sing at the top of your lungs.

Most of The Struts’ songs on this album seem to represent the 70s glam era of partying and debauchery. There are plenty songs with that sleazy, sexy sound, like “Dirty Sexy Money,” which is all about having a good time and letting loose. The stand out “Put Your Money on Me” has a similar vibe with its irresistible hook, fun vibe, and vintage flavor. Things switch up on the more 80s sounding “My Machine.” The opening has electro synth making it sound like a Devo song and even Spiller sings in a robotic manner. Once it gets to the hook it gets back to hardcore, high energy rocking. Like so many of their other songs, there’s something downright awesome about this one. And like so many classic rock songs, this one uses the car metaphor for a sexy woman. It’s dirty, sexy, and playful.

Though it’s clear The Struts like to party and get wild, there’s a sentimental side. There’s actually a surprising amount of love songs on the album. One of the most energetic and light sounding songs is “She Makes Me Feel.” Unlike the other tracks, the music here is really bright and almost carefree. There’s even upbeat whistling that plays along with the melody. Spiller sings about the shitty things in life not mattering, as long as he can come home to his lady whose his “pick me up.” “Black Swan” and “You + I” follow a similar suit, but focuses on lost love and a love/hate relationship respectively. Though they’re not as party driven as the other songs, they still keep they’re upbeat, rocking nature ensuring there’s never a dull moment.

The album was eventually reissued in the US with five new tracks: “Mary Go Round,” “These Times are Changing,” “Young Stars,” “Only One Call Away,” and “The Ol’ Switcheroo.” In turn, three songs from the original release were dropped. While the new songs are decent and have that same, upbeat fun nature to them, none are as good or better than the tracks on the original. Every song on the 2014 release is engaging, fun, and awesome. The new songs, not so much. They’re not bad; just not all that memorable. If you’re going to grab a copy of this album, I recommend picking up the original.

This is one of the most fun rock albums I’ve heard in a while. The Struts bring mindless fun, partying, and sleaziness to rock and roll. As soon as it starts, the album keeps you moving, singing, and dancing. It’s impossible to feel bad when you listen to this record. The songs are upbeat, carefree, and even sentimental at times. Luke Spiller is charming, playful, and seductive making anyone who hears his voice fall in love with him. The band predicted their own success with the title Everybody Wants. Now, we can’t get enough of The Struts.