Sound — 2
"White boy on the beat rocking Gucci sneaks. All I do is win Charlie Sheen."
~Falling In Reverse, "Alone", 2013.
As musicians, we tend to value progression and experimentation. Flirting with new styles, trying new instruments, exploring new modes of expression - these are endeavours that further our art and must be welcomed, whatever the genre. We can all recall a few instances where these experiments have gone wrong, but that should not put anyone off trying. Nevada's Falling In Reverse tried; led by former Escape The Fate vocalist Ronnie Radke, they enjoyed considerable success with their 2011 debut "The Drug in Me Is You," combining American post-hardcore with shiny, auto-tuned pop. If you think that sounds like a bad idea then turn back now, because new album "Fashionably Late" takes it and pushes it to the absolute limits.
Opening track "Champion" starts as you might expect chugging metal riffs, angry barks and a processed poppy chorus. The heavy bits are hardly revolutionary but the hook, taken on face value, is relatively catchy. Then, at the half way mark, a mid-00s hip-hop beat enters the fold and Radke starts rapping. He gets through 200 words in 40 seconds, and before you can say "career change" there's a monotone breakdown, deathcore tempo drop and another serving of pop chorus to deal with. It's all rather disorienting, and the album continues in this fashion, throwing seemingly random styles together at will. "Rolling Stone" takes in Slipknot riffs, choir pads and a Skrillex-esque dubstep drop, "Self-Destruct Personality" combines auto-tuned rap with harmonized guitar leads and "Drifter" trades sugary synths for snare brushes and steel-string guitar, ending the album with a rousing country singalong.
There's a common theme here, and you might have guessed what it is already: it's all absolute trash. The hip-hop is dated, the metal is generic and One Direction would wince at how sickly some of the hooks are. The vocals, though versatile, are produced to the point of absurdity and auto-tune drips from every note. Very rarely do the band make a genuine attempt to merge two styles together, instead jumping from one to another and assuming that the listener is patient (or nave) enough to go along with it.
Lyrics — 2
Unfortunately, the lyrics are no less confusing. Take the title track, and this snippet from the chorus:
"I wanna be that guy that makes you sad,
That makes you cry again,
Without a doubt, sorry about f--king all your friends."
Two songs previously, Mr Radke was reflecting on why his girlfriend didn't really love him, bemused by her lack of interest and claiming to be a helpless victim of "the Bad Girls Club." The stupidity is truly unbelievable. Other topics include his "white boy swagger," girls liking his Facebook posts, being in rap since he was "sh-tting in Pampers" and, stepping out of character for a moment, how much he misses his mother, who abandoned him as a child.
When he drops the nauseatingly conceited rockstar persona he's actually very open, reflecting on deeply personal issues. The honesty of it makes the misogynistic nonsense elsewhere all the more bizarre. However, regardless of whether he's playing the womanizing sex god or the poor, traumatised boy, his words are extremely self-absorbed and lack any visible grounding in the real world. You do feel for him, but when the album's most emotional lyrics are found on "Drifter," the exceptionally tacked-on country and western ditty, it's a challenge to take them seriously.
Overall Impression — 3
Ever the zealot, Radke has been telling the press all about his excitement over this album, claiming it's the best he's ever made with Falling In Reverse or Escape The Fate and that people would "lose their minds" when they heard it. That is certainly one way of putting it. However misguided, you have to admire the band's passion and willingness to play exactly what they want to, when they want to. Unfortunately, the result in this case is an arrogant, incoherent, blathering mess with genre fusion that doesn't work. It's like mixing oil with water, except the water's been poisoned and the oil is fuelling a devastating war in the Middle East, where cities are terrorised by militant rule and chemical weapons mutate the faces of civilian children. This is an unmitigated disaster.