Sound — 6
Amongst the late-'90s influx of alternative metal bands - courtesy of the nu-metal craze - Alien Ant Farm rose to fame with their cover of Michael Jackson's "Smooth Criminal," a modern metal adaptation of an already legendary song that couldn't have come about at a better time. Their cover would get massive airplay for years to come, and was more or less the sole reason the band's second studio album, "ANThology," went platinum.
But as they say, when you start out hot, you burn out quick, and Alien Ant Farm would promptly decline from the commercial zenith they hit early in their career. Though 2003's "TruANT" was geared to continue the band's momentum - with the DeLeo brothers (of Stone Temple Pilots) producing the album - it failed to hit relative success as its predecessor, both in the charts and in airplay. 2006's "Up in the Attic" would do even worse - not containing any kind of single, its peak position on the rock charts was in the triple-digits. Perhaps what stung even more was the fact that their cover of "Smooth Criminal" was still getting airplay around then.
Though down, Alien Ant Farm wouldn't be counted out, and after biding their time for several years in the wake of their unsuccessful fourth album, they would begin to record new music in 2011. Despite their commercial track record being less-than-satisfactory for a label to sign the band for their aspiring fifth album, they launched a Pledge Music project to crowdfund the production of the album, which succeeded with flying colors. It would take more time than expected, but Alien Ant Farm would finally return with their fifth album, "Always and Forever."
While Alien Ant Farm have tinkered with their sound from album to album, "Always and Forever" shows the band taking the most liberties in terms of trying out different genres, probably because expectations aren't an overbearing factor here. Unfortunately, these endeavors to try out some new sounds seem more concerned with landing the next hit more than anything else; either sounding like shallow emulations or employing current music trends. "Our Time" is fashioned as an indie rock/funk rock style that cribs off of Finger Eleven's "Paralyzer" (it also unexpectedly whips out a guest rap verse that's mixed in poorly), "Sidelines" is crafted in the acoustic-laden emo rock akin to Dashboard Confessional, and "Crazy Love" bears a synth melody similar to Owl City's big hit "Fireflies." "Homage" and "American Pie" are shamelessly sculpted to be stadium-filling arena rock, and then there's the electronic metal jam "Let Em Know," which employs a dubstep breakdown at the bridge, and perfectly shows how sour music trends can go in just a couple of years.
It's actually the tracks that stick to Alien Ant Farm's conventional alt-rock style that are the more enjoyable portion of the album. Compared to the alt-rock songs they made about ten years ago, their compositions on "Always and Forever" are an improvement across the board. Basslines especially captivate in "Simpatico," "Better Weather" and "Dirty Bomb" (as well as "Let Em Know," the one saving grace of the song), the drumming activity is most impressive in "Yellow Pages" and "Little Things (Physical)," and the best guitar moment on the album is in the solo of "Godlike." "Better Weather" also stands tall with its 6/4 measurement; a welcome way to mix up their tried-and-true style.
Lyrics — 4
Like Alien Ant Farm's previous albums, the lyrics of "Always and Forever" are primarily rooted in frontman Dryden Mitchell's romantic experiences. On his more positive takes, Mitchell's articulations of his love are elementary, like in the doctor/patient-themed "Burning" or the intergalactic "Godlike," and the "take your chance and get the girl" message of "Sidelines" will only be useful to listeners that are still in high school. On the negative takes, Mitchell shows the same amount of spite and hopelessness as he did in previous heartbreak songs - "Dirty Bomb" dons war-like symbolism on the fatal attraction trope, "Crazy Love" paints the unflattering picture of Facebook-stalking an ex, and "Yellow Pages" is another song pining for a rehashing of communication which uses the criminally-outdated theme of phonebooks (come on, who still uses phonebooks?).
In the few cases that Mitchell isn't writing about women, he of course takes some time to write lyrics about Alien Ant Farm's return. Mitchell proclaims "we've been away from the scene for far too long" in "Our Time," and the rap verse provided by Zeale continues to hype the band's return "Alien Ant Farm, release the kraken!" On a more humble note, the concept of "Homage" is Mitchell's tribute to a handful of iconic musicians that have influenced him - a concept that's nearly as pandering as the arena rock style the song is written in, not to mention that the very same concept was already done by Weezer back in 2008 with "Heart Songs."
Overall Impression — 5
The cover art of "Always and Forever" is the perfect representation of the album. Made of parts old and new, the old-style compositions on the album feel natural, while the new-style compositions feel forced and disingenuous. Going even further, the Frankenstein-themed styling of the cover art represents the elements that Alien Ant Farm have taken from other bands and sewn onto themselves. With some decent alt-rock songs beings diluted with a lot of flailing and derivative style sampling, ultimately, "Always and Forever" is too encumbered with conflicts to be the phoenixian rise Alien Ant Farm would hope it to be.