Review Summary: a freak of nature. a very, very catchy one.
Review judged by repeat listening of the streaming album at http://www.myspace.com/hollywoodundead
While comparing cooking to music is somewhat unorthodox, today I feel it appropriate. You see there’s this funny thing about food: sometimes if you take a few unpleasant favors and mix them together they somehow make a palatable dish. For example, sauerkraut, corned beef, and thousand island dressing are unique tastes… uniquely unpleasant. Put them all together in a hot sandwich, though, and you get a Reuben a sandwich tasty enough to be served in diners across the United States.
The Hollywood Undead are, in many ways, the musical equivalent, even though I don’t see them becoming nearly as widespread. Nearly without exception I hate scenecore, I hate emo music, and I hate misogynistic gangster rap. But somehow when you put all three together with a sprinkling of hard rock guitar and puree, it becomes tolerable. More than tolerable-- enjoyable. Consequentially and against my better judgment, I have to recommend Swan Songs.
Yes, the album’s pleasant enough to listen to, which is the bare minimum that should be expected from a band that worked on the disc for a whopping two plus years. Fortunately for fans, all but two of the songs here are completely new and stand apart from their (fairly large) library of myspace-only singles. Sadly ‘No. 5’ is still the best song they’ve ever done, but the more nonsensical stuff here comes close. Lyrically this stuff is adorably dumb in a way that MUST be intentional, because even on their worst day Motley Crue was never this obsessed with alcohol, drugs, loose women, and Hollywood. This is a drinking and dancing album, much more effectively and more Californian than Schwayze could ever hope to be. I wish I’d heard less piano-rap ballads like ‘Black Dahlia’ and ‘The Diary’ in favor of more stupid cockfests like ‘Bottle & a Gun,’ but word has it that the album when bought in stores will come with several bonus tracks which might remedy the issue. Sadly none of those songs are going to be fan-favorite ‘Bitches’ which would have really made the CD.
The responsible party is not frontman and Emo singer Deuce, who carries the choruses well, but makes the band’s occasional attempt at seriousness look utterly ridiculous. Most of the other members seem like set pieces (seriously, I recall hearing Da Kurlzz maybe twice on the album). The real star here is charismatic chauvinist extraordinaire Charlie Scene whose sheer love of everything crude makes ‘Everywhere I Go’ an album standout, and makes himself look like every feminist’s public enemy no. 1. He and J-Dog (who despite his talent apes Charlie’s shtick to the point of becoming a hockey masked Mini-Me to Charlie’s Dr. Evil) are, for all their posturing, actually very good rappers whose best moments are matched in lyrical complexity only by their catchiness.
What’s musically present here certainly is not originality: the very first notes of opener and first single ‘Undead’ are just a synthesized version of the ‘Crazy Train’ riff, and the pattern repeats. Every beat is suitably gangster, heavy with drum and bass, but also rife with 80’s new wave keyboards and 90’s nu metal guitar accents. Every flourish, every melody, every backbeat has been stolen from somewhere else, usually many places. The angry teen references don’t end there: I counted rap nods to Wu Tan Clan (‘Bottle & A Gun’), Cypress Hill(‘Everywhere I Go’) and 2pac(‘Californa’), while every emo-pop chorus seems lifted straight from the gospels of late-90’s Sum 41 and Blink 182, and any other numeral-punk band ever conceived. I’m sure there’s more that I’m missing, but all of that’s just the music. Let’s not forget that their painted satanic hockey mask gimmick seems to imitate from and improve upon the antics of Slipknot and Eminem. Other than the comic lyrical puzzle pieces every cog and spring of the Hollywood Undead machine has been chop-shopped from a proven pop machine.
Some would call that a mark against the boys, but those looking so closely are missing the big picture behind what makes the album so thoroughly enjoyable because, although those pieces are scavenged, the way they are glued and welded together is lovably haphazard, pieced together for maximum catchy song chaos. There’s a real love for the music palpable in the songs, in the sound, and in the lyrics. Rather than dangerous mavericks the Undead boys come across as hip hp pranksters with a genuine jouis de vivre that brings back memories of younger Faith no More, or Grandmaster Flash, or at the very least Tenacious D. It may look bad on paper but all adds up to a lot more than ‘White Boy Adolescence: the greatest hits, now with added irony’. For further proof listen only to the first thirty seconds of ‘This Love This Hate’. It’s a textbook case of more than the sum of its parts, which is quite the feat when every song sounds like a very well-produced 15-year-old’s mixtape.
From the clever lyricisms to the sheer revelry and love for the clichés they embrace, the HU crew seem to really understand what made early hip hop edgy and fun, much more so than factory-made gangsta clowns like Lil Wayne. I cannot in any honest capacity call Swan Songs a good album. I can’t even call it an album, really. What I’d call it is a menagerie, a gene splice lab of every so-bad-you-love-it music cliché of the past 20 years. The real measure of a CD is, really, whether or not it’s worth listening to-- which this is. As art, it’s rubbish. As rap, it’s debatable. As fun music it is completely top notch. File this with Katy Perry under ‘guilty pleasure.’ Emphasis on the pleasure.