Sound — 6
Like many of us, I probably learned more about the history of Falling In Reverse by reading comments section on the internet than actually listening to their music. I watched the news stories about vocalist and guitarist Ronnie Radke's 2008 arrest for involvement in an altercation that led to the murder of Michael Cook, his arrests for domestic abuse and even assaulting crowd members at a Falling In Reverse concert in 2012. I followed comments sections full of the seething kind of comments usually levied against the most terrible of human beings, and critics were even less kind to Radke's music. And the band's eclectic mix of metalcore, electronic music, rap, and "emo" post-hardcore elements never seemed to be intended to do anything more than divide fans.
Here on "Coming Home", the band all but ditches the metalcore schtick, delivering more clean vocals, clean guitars, synth parts, piano playing and stock "whoa-oh" vocals than ever before on a Falling In Reverse release. Apparently, in the annals of the age of the internet, this is considered "space rock", which seems very strange to me as I still seem to be stuck in an old-school mentality where that musical term tended to mean prog and psychedelic rock artists from the 1970s such as Hawkwind, Pink Floyd, Amon Duul, and Magma. But apparently, that term has been amended to mean a more atmospheric form of alternative/post-hardcore, along the lines of 30 Seconds To Mars and Angels And Airwaves. And this album truly belongs in that sort of paradigm, with nearly every song featuring the kind of hooks that those two bands have been known for. In terms of heaviness and the guitar sound, the album is probably closer to that of 30STM's debut album (admittedly, a damn fine album in this reviewer's humble opinion) than to Angels And Airwaves, but the vocals definitely seem to evoke the latter more often.
There's definitely a thread of monotony about the songs. They all seem designed to carry that same kind of epic, electronic-tinged pop/punk, "emo" flavour without too much variation throughout. There are very few tracks that seem to be stand-alone highlights, after a couple of listens, the songs on the album all seem to kind of take on a very "samey" quality. This doesn't mean the performances of the musicians on the album are necessarily bad. The rhythm section of bassist Zakk Sandler and drummer Ryan Seaman actually does a decent job of holding the music together, and lead guitarist Christian Thompson gets to pull off some absolutely delicious guitar solos (that you'd never hear in a 30STM or Angels And Airwaves tune), particularly in the song "Loser" and a truly beautiful harmony lead in "I'm Bad At Life". Derek Jones also holds the rhythm guitar role in a particularly nondescript way, but still helps with the way the songs tend to wash over the listener. Ronnie Radke himself even gets in on the action, playing some guitar and keyboard throughout the album.
The songwriting isn't particularly awful, but the album sounds very dated by today's standards, much like the band is stuck in the early half of the '00s, with tracks like "I Hate Everyone" and "Straight To Hell" sounding very much like throwbacks to the era of My Chemical Romance and Fall Out Boy's first few albums. It certainly doesn't fit the mold of any particular sound one would associate with this decade, and while throwbacks are usually welcomed, this isn't really a scene many feel particularly nostalgic about. Overall, though, I found the songs particularly boring on this record. There just isn't enough to keep me hooked. Only the groovy bass and drums opening the album's closing track, "The Departure", really caught me by surprise in a positive way enough to get me excited, but it was a short-lived excitement as the song quickly went to that tired "space rock/pop-punk" sound.
The production is not bad. A very typical production by Michael "Elvis" Baskette, that sort of loud, almost overproduced sound one would associate with many of the other artists he regularly works with such as Alter Bridge and Blessthefall.
Lyrics — 6
This is where I'm again struggling to understand the connection to the whole "space rock" idea behind this album. While the album's opening title track does contain some lines alluding to science-fiction tropes ("Transmission from the stars/A message from the atmosphere/Etched into my heart" and a countdown sequence to a self-destruct), the majority of the songs tend to stick to the message of depression, self-loathing, broken relationships... the usual post-hardcore lyrical subject matter. The album's mission statement almost seems to beat the listener over the head in the track "I Hate Everyone", where Ronnie Radke moans "I'm sick and tired of all the things that keep you away from me/You go run and tell your friends that I am the enemy/I hate this house, I hate your mom/And fuck your friends, I hate them all/You're the only reason that/I hate everyone". Most of the songs seem to be Radke whining about lost loves, and sometimes, he even manages to take a threatening posture such as in the song "Fuck You and All Your Friends": "This will be the last song I ever sang/About a person that I'd rather not name/You think you're so goddamn cool/Everybody thinks you're a fucking fool/Crash and burn on a car ride home/It would be a lot better if I slit your throat".
On the other hand, on the bonus track "Right Now", Radke seems to allude to the fact that all of this is just pointless posturing: "I'm not a bad guy, it's just my reputation is fucked/But I'll embrace it, I got no other choice and it sucks/If you don't think that's wrong, you're as dumb as this song". Perhaps it's time he learned a bit of self-deprecation and humility, and he seems to be fine admitting to his failings here. But lyrically, as a whole, this album is really nothing to write home about. Just a lot of the same old tired cliches associated with that whole "emo post-hardcore" scene of the early '00s, and pretty much no connection to any sort of "space rock" mythos.
Radke's vocals are not really anything I'd complain about. His voice is far from the worst I've ever heard for any singer, and his skill as a vocalist is pretty decent. If you're really into the sort of My Chemical Romance-meets-30 Seconds To Mars style of singing, there's not much to dislike on this record. But overall, I found it little more than average. There's also the annoyingly ever-prevalent "whoa-oh" vocals, which are definitely the worst contribution to music this genre has made.
Overall Impression — 6
With such a controversial history and divisive sound, it's natural that there's a lot of opinions of this band floating around on the internet. And the big question I ask is "does this album live up (or down) to that expectation?"
I don't think it does. While this album is not exactly inventive, exciting, or even all that entertaining, it wasn't as blatantly offensive as many make this band's music out to be. And at moments, the album shows brief glimmers of talent and musicianship far exceeding public opinions. In fact, the guitar playing on this album is, at times, absolutely sublime. But this is mostly overshadowed by the altogether below-average songwriting, the incredibly dated aesthetic of the record, and the overbearing sense of monotony throughout. The sad-sack lyrics are also a definite low point, lacking the kind of poetic subtlety that makes many of their contemporaries' albums better, but at times, seeking to offend.
But, alas, it's not an absolutely terrible record. If that sort of mix of My Chemical Romance and early 30 Seconds To Mars is your cup of tea, this record might actually be worth a spin or two. And despite the controversy surrounding this band, there are moments where Ronnie Radke seems to take his reputation in stride, which is kind of refreshing. But overall, this isn't an album I'm going to give a very strong recommendation to. And the album cover, depicting an astronaut against a black background with a vision of a house reflecting in their visor, and a passing mention here and there of "the stars" is about as close to "space rock" as this album gets, which I realize is a gripe most of us will not care about, but for some of us, "space rock" carries a vastly different connotation.