Review Summary: Experimental folk punk for the masses.
Upon first picking up Fake Problem’s most recent LP and sophomore release ‘It’s Great To Be Alive’ it struck me just how incredibly gay the whole thing was. The cover is a splash of bright colours emerging from black, or so-called absence of colour, which on closer inspection reveals itself to be a multitude of flowers within what appears to be another flower. And then there’s that title - ‘It’s Great To Be Alive’. The whole thing is both incredibly cheesy, pretty cool looking and at the same time kind of hopeful - light triumphing over dark and more importantly how it’s good to be alive and kicking. Take this concept and sprinkle a hell of a lot of fun into a folky indie dance pop punk record coming in at just under the 40 minute mark and you should know already whether you’re going to want this or not.
Fake Problems originally formed as guitarist and vocalist Chris Farren’s solo project back in 2001 as a release for his own musical ideas using a variety of instruments recorded on the computer. However, he was soon joined by the remaining three members of the group all of which he had known since childhood to become a full band. They claim to be influenced by several genres - (evident in their mix match approach to their own music; blending punk rock with folk, pop and even country), in particular citing Cursive, Blink-182, Bright Eyes and Hank Williams among others. Having already gathered some steam after the release of ‘How Far Our Bodies Go’, the young band have been well and truly scooped up by the internet hype train, some critics already touting them as 2009’s Gaslight Anthem. Whether or not they will receive the same acclaim at the end of this year as the latter managed at the end of the last remains, for the considerable future, to be seen.
The songs themselves are all delivered a bit tongue-in-cheek as they smoothly transit styles accompanied by a horn section and Farren’s hoarse delivery akin to a certain Tom Gabel of Against Me! fame. The rhythm section pulls everything together nicely as it never pushes for technicality or to be overly complex, instead speeds along with the rest of the album, having you up on your feet one moment, head bobbing along, dancing the next, head thrown back shouting along with Farren’s sing-a-long lyrics; whether they be about becoming the American dream or threatening an alligator. All very good and all but if you’re out of your teens you may find it all a bit hard to resonate with. I read one review which suggests listening to this album was akin to being the older brother listening to your little sisters record. And that’s where the problem lies, because despite the equal parts punk and psychedelia and the constant acid trip the record initially takes you on it begins to fall a bit flat after one or two listens.
Why? I guess the main problem is lack of maturity. No matter how exciting it is initially to hear some yodelling throw in punky folk rocker “The Heaven & Hell Cotillion” and Lee’s chaotic guitar playing throwing out massive hooks such as those in “The Dream Team” you can’t help but feel the band have used up all their ideas in the first half of the record, with the second half racing to catch up but being let down by it’s inability to let the first part go. You’ll often find as well that despite the danceability of the record you sometimes can’t help but feel you’re listening to a poor mans ‘Reinventing Axl Rose’, so similar is Faren’s delivery and the bands main sound in general. So is this worth the hype? Probably not. Is it worth picking up? I guess so, I mean it’s pretty fun it just lacks that extra zing to push it from a fun record to a great record.