Review Summary: Pretend I’m Human is an introspective and reflective album for a band once thriving in the post-hardcore underground and the change in approach is excellently executed.
Orange 9mm had just come off of releasing another solid album that expanded on their post-hardcore roots but failed to garner any mainstream success. That album was Tragic and after its lukewarm reaction, Orange 9mm was released from their label Atlantic. In the wake of this, Chris Traynor had left the band. Needless to say that it was a tough time in the world of Orange 9mm. So what did Chaka Malik and the rest do? They regrouped, re-collected and with the pressure of an overbearing influence alleviated they headed back into the studio to record their follow up.
This time around, the recording process was much more enjoyable. Typically, the band would arrive at the studio in the morning, have breakfast and coffee, and as a band listen to music, either something created the day before or to a CD. Rush and Miles Davis were on regular rotation. The band spent the morning and early afternoon writing in the studio and by afternoon would lay down the basic tracks for the song. So to say that Pretend I’m Human was a transition for the band would be an understatement. Branching off of the “in your face” nature of Driver Not Included and the more melodic but still atonal “Tragic”, Pretend I’m Human is an excellent effort with an incredible amount of variety.
There are still the in your face rockers and the rhythmic venom of Chaka Malik throughout Pretend I’m Human. This is more evident during the first three tracks “When you lie”, “Lifeless” and “Facelift” which all feature some sublime rapping and his fire-spit delivery can somewhat be reminiscent of Zach De La Rocha. Instead of a straight atonal assault that was seen on “Driver not included” the band adds to that on the more fist-pumping songs with the use of synthesizers and complex drumming. Chaka Malik in actuality is a lot better than most rap-rock vocalists and his rhyming has improved through the evolution of the band. He manages to add an interesting aspect to the music with his rapid rapping which gives the listener something to listen to during the quiet moments of such songs like “Lifeless”.
Pretend I’m Human is also a lot more experimental as compared to any of their other releases. There is even a ballad of sorts in the form of “Touching Skies” when listened to is actually surprisingly beautiful and very uplifting. Which begs the question, what was Orange 9mm really capable of? But what really strikes you is the incredible introspective and revengeful nature of Chaka’s lyrics. Chaka spills his guts and inner demons and leaves it on the floor for the marvel of the world. “Dragons (You Know I Love You)” is completely spoken and features some venomous lines.
There are certain times when I wished I wasn't so alive,
and I would take it out on people like they were dead
I blow them away with words so red,
it chops their skulls from their shoulders,
and they run circles till they fall off the face of the earth
My motto has always been; its never good to harvest the venom inside and Chaka Malik spews all of it out on this record and “Innocence” is a continuation of this and features “some” musicianship. It is another introspective piece and is possibly one of the darkest songs Orange 9mm has ever written. “Certain sides of temptation start
to sprout, wait I'm too clean for this leave me out. From those depths comes the part of me”. One can’t help but connect with the guy and be amazed by his unbelievable candidness. The use of a violin is present on “Tightrope” which is a welcome addition as Orange 9mm attempts at something melodic. They don’t quite make it, but it’s a valiant effort.
The problem lies here with Pretend I’m Human, because it seems like Orange 9mm has strayed a bit too far away from their roots. Some of the music seems forced. Another one of the issues on Pretend I’m Human is often when Chaka Malik is rapping all in his lonesome. This can get boring if one finds the rapping tiresome, which it does after a while. So there isn’t much in the way of catchy and propulsive rhythms in the background for Chaka to feed off of which hinders the effectiveness of the music. Much like Zack De La Rocha’s effectiveness relies heavily on what’s happening instrumentally.
Pretend I’m Human is an introspective and reflective album for a band once thriving in the post-hardcore underground and the change in approach is excellently executed. While the band suffers from a lack of cohesive sound, it more than easily delivers on any other expectations you’d have for the band.