In a day and age where bands like My Chemical Romance are going full-on ’05 “The Bravery” style discopop, it’s interesting to see the varying directions being taken by the bands from the former frontline of teen music culture. Some bands, and indeed, pop acts (I’m looking at you, B.E.P.) have fully embraced the chic stylistic wrappings of electronic beats, while others, the “indie” aesthetic. A portion cling to their guns (half of Warped Tour), and the ballsy even make claims with new albums returning to a raw, former glory. Gym Class Heroes are among the most recent groups to make such lofty promises, but unfortunately for them, “The Papercut Chronicles II” comes off as a ka-ching pop calculated attempt at sales, and much less a creative rejuvenation. As a huge fan of “The Papercut Chronicles” I was expecting something very different from the record I heard today, and that sucks.
The original “Papercut Chronicles”, released in 2005, was an honest and unpandering breath of fresh air to the then young music soundscape. After first discovering the young four-piece, I have fond memories of both reading and exclaming to others the band and album’s legend: Here was a rapper frontman with a guitar/bass/drum trio who had gone into a studio and recorded an album in a single day, with not a sample or turntable in sight. The album dealt with valid themes, from lonely strolls and young romance, to pill addictions and gay-bashing, and was able to package the group’s viewpoint and identity in a 17-track album as aurally uniform as it was diverse.
The same cannot be said of their fourth and most recent album, “Chronicles II”. It’s clear from the first few seconds of music that the record is a much more heavily-produced affair then their debut. This, while perfectly acceptable by today’s standards, is the first clue that the band, or perhaps some rigid labelhead, would not ultimately deliver with the “old/raw sound promise” as expected. Other clues range from a full list of popstar guests (Adam Levine, Ryan Tedder) to a concise tracklisting, with no segways, skits, or once-beloved instrumental jams. Once again, understandable!
Still, a disappointment; a new record from the brilliant, sometimes jammy, dibbly-dabbly rawform Gym Class Heroes could possibly do better now then ever, certainly more then a somewhat unremarkable group of songs shilling recycled themes half-pop and half-emo. With song titles unmistakably “fueled by ramen”, tracks are cliché in one hopeful direction (“My heart is a stereo, it only plays for you” and “Life goes on”) while others in the depressing opposite. Some of the latter manage to even be current and rapper-chic, such as the Cudi/Kanye/Drake approved, “I am lonely and sad in this room full of people. oh why am I so lonely and different from everyone else”. I guess they get points for that? Not sure. The musical progressions are about as cliché and the production elements contain bits stolen all the way from Bruno Mars to Linkin Park. There was so much passion in their first record- audible passion! Sadly here, the music comes off at best like a cold calculation; a swing at radio success. If you’re looking for another average pop record, it’s right here.
I’m not much a fisherman, but I’ve always been under the belief that “real” bait worked better than manufactured. Their debut was real, and I, like others, was caught in spell. Gym Class Heroes have cast another line with Chronicles II, but I’m not biting.
Guest review by Matt F.X., Music Supervisor of SKINS US