Review Summary: The Suicide Machines go pop!
I’m going to come out and say it: I think people are a little wee bit too harsh on this album. I know, for all of the Suicide Machine fans here, I probably just lost all credibility with you.
I know I know, I can totally see where the fans came from with this one. Such a drastic change in sound is certainly shocking. For the unfamiliar, the Suicide Machines is primarily a punk and ska band that plays fast and quick songs. Their previous album, ‘Battle Hymns’, was an angry, aggressive, politically charged album that featured songs almost as short as 4 seconds! The album before that, ‘Destruction by Definition’, is probably their most well known, thanks to the song ‘New Girl’ which was featured in the Tony Hawk videogames. They were the soundtrack to snotty skateboarding punks everywhere.
When their self-titled album was released, the fans were shocked, and perhaps rightfully so. They decried the band as sellouts, and felt insulted by this release. This album, with the exception of small number of songs, is a pop rock album. Not punk pop, but pop rock. And it features plenty more of the pop than rock.
Within the context of the band’s style and image, this album is an automatic failure. It’s like Cannibal Corpse making a screamo album, or Death Cab for Cutie attempting nu-metal. When viewed as a pop rock album, I’m half and half on it. The first half of the album features some exceptionally written pop songs that have snuck their way into my head (in other words, catchy as hell), but when the band attempts to be ‘angry’, it’s completely laughable. One minute you’re listening to lead singer Jason Navarro crooning about how ‘there’s something extraordinary about you’, then next, over very pseudo-heavy riffs, he’s shouting (not screaming) “*** you, I hate everything!”
The production is first rate: extremely clean, crisp, and clear. I’m pretty sure the band wanted mainstream success, and they did go about it the right way. The guitars have an extremely clean and pleasant tone to it- the production would perhaps be more appropriate for a country album or an album by the Goo Goo Dolls. On top of that, the majority of the songs have strings accompanying them. On a Suicide Machines album? No way, man.
As I mentioned previously, the first half of the album has some extremely catchy and fun songs. “Sometimes I Don’t Mind”, a song about the singer’s dog (big change from the racially charged ‘Black And White’ off their previous album) almost sounds like classic pop. The lyrics are cheesy, and the chorus wants to appeal to teenage girls. It works if what you’re looking for is pop and you know that going in. “Extraordinary” is one of the slower songs here, a near ballad. I do think it’s one of the strongest tracks here, as the lyrics are very heartfelt and don’t just sound like the band wanting to cash in on teenage girls’ raging hormones everywhere (or maybe that’s exactly the case). Another highlight is ‘The Fade Away', which sounds like a slightly (ever, ever so slightly) rockier version of Chris Isaak’s ‘Wicked Game’.
The second half of the album is simply too bland to stand out in any way shape, or form. Even if you despise the fact that the Suicide Machines have essentially written the ultimate sell out record, at least, for me anyways, I can acknowledge the good songwriting on the first half of the record. I'd be hard pressed to find anything to say about the second half of the album; it's just so bland and I forgot every song after I listened to it, with the exception of the final track.
And, well, the good news is the band’s roots aren’t entirely forgotten and the album ends on a very high note. The closing track, “I Never Promised You A Rose Garden”, a cover of an old 50s pop song, features plenty of strings, punk breakdowns in the chorus, and ska-riffing. A very bouncy and fun cover indeed, one of the best songs here and it reminds you of which band you're listening to.
The Suicide Machines’ little experiment didn’t work very well. The fans hated, hated, HATED this album. There was no mainstream success to be had, no top 40 hits, no MTV, no nothing, and for the few times I’ve seen this band live, they have not played any songs off of it. The band’s follow up album, ‘Steal This Record’, was a little more aggressive but only by a fraction- the band would go back to their roots and unleash ‘A Match & Gasoline’, their best album to date and an overall kick arse ska punk album.
If you dig on mainstream pop rock, give this one a listen. I don’t think it’s the antichrist of a record as I’ve heard some fans describe it as, and there are a decent number of highlights, but it certainly is disappointing.