Review Summary: The Devil Wears Prada shatters all expectations by refusing to improve at all.
The appeal of The Devil Wears Prada is boggling. As a group that is part of an elite set of bands that are idolized by thick-rimmed hipsters, and drooled over by skinny-jeaned fangirls, it is obvious that they have maintained a status of marginal success over time. The problem is not the scene-girls, and the problem is not that half of their fan base are only listening because it makes them feel 'hardcore' (not a generalization), but the problem is that The Devil Wears Prada don't make good music. The rehashed melodies (ala Underoath), and the repetitive breakdowns (ala As I Lay Dying) get more homogenous after every listen. The sheer mediocrity of the band is disconcerting -- how does something so
average get so
popular? Luckily for the band, The Devil Wears Prada's 2007 release 'Plagues' showed promise -- the band was not technically proficient, and the album couldn't hold the attention span of any remotely sane person for more than thirty seconds, but the band wasn't bad
; they were just really boring. Naturally, Plagues only gave the band room to improve.
So, what has the Devil Wears Prada done in the two years since Plagues?
The answer to that question, regrettably, is nothing.
Mike Hranica's jarringly atrocious and forgettable vocals are still widely unvaried and obnoxious, which aren't helped by the fact that his screams and faux-growls are way too loud in the production. Also painfully present in the record are the overused and insipid breakdowns that "plagued" (ha!) their previous work. Jeremy DePoyster's soaring and ultimately pleasant clean vocals is marred by predictable melodies and lack of variability, which is a disappointment because while his vocals are an obvious highlight in nearly every song (Dez Moines in particular), his melodies are as repetitious as everything else that happens on the all-too-long 40 minutes of this record.
One of the selling points (or selling gimmicks, depending on who you ask) of The Devil Wears Prada is the presence of keyboarder/pianist James Baney. Unfortunately, during the record he is either overexerting himself or underutilizing his presence -- in all the wrong moments, his jarring synth pads will bleed through the colorless harmonic minor riffs of Chris Rubey. Most of the pads and keyboard-work, in an effort to play up the epic nature of many of their songs, only distract and confuse the listener. Meanwhile, in the almost pleasant Assistant to the Regional Manager (referencing The Office is probably the only commendable thing they've done), his croaking keyboard loops seep through during a breakdown or two and sound actually nice
. There are a few moments on the album like this, where they finally tighten up their sporadic sound and create something memorable (the chorus of Danger: Wildman), but unfortunately these tolerable moments are over before you can really appreciate them.
Allow me to dwell on the few acceptable tracks on the record. Lead single Dez Moines and Assistant to the Regional Manager provide soaring melodies and don't overdose too heavily on the chugging, providing a marginally tolerable listening experience. Another honorable mention is the glitchy breakdown of Lord Xenu, that bounces between right and left speakers in an electronic temper tantrum. Explosive opener Sassafras blasts off the record strikingly (and deceptively), while the record's strongest song, Danger: Wildman, showcases catchy melodies, anthemic synth lines and perhaps most surprisingly, an extended and restrained electronic interlude (ala Underoath) complete with preachy lyrics and campy keyboards -- but it's really almost nice.
The little acceptable moments sprinkled throughout the album yet again give the band hope for the future and manage to save With Roots Above and Branches Below from being a completely abysmal suck-fest. Unfortunately, for the time being, it's depressingly evident that progress is something The Devil Wears Prada is strongly opposed to, and they suffer immensly because of it. Frankly, these guys are just really good at being average. Here's to another musical dud of an album, boys. Cheers.