Review Summary: This effort may be a drastic improvement over Lonely Road, but The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus remain their own worst enemy.
What can be said about the modern pop-punk scene that hasn’t already been beaten to death? Boring, trite, repetitive…every adjective has been taken along with a slew of analogies comparing the genre to a cookie cutter or dead horse. It isn’t that nobody
does pop-punk right anymore, because there are certainly notable exceptions, but more so that the vast majority don’t know how to distinguish themselves from peers or high school bands with some method of recording at their disposal. Sadly, they have all become one in the same – this disgusting, congealed, sticky mess that nobody knows how to get out of. The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus were actually once a notch above average, and the release of Don’t You Fake It
revealed the promising side of a decaying genre. But almost as if there was some kind of gravitational pull towards banality, the band steadily declined from their somewhat-embraced status until they finally hit rock bottom with 2009’s Lonely Road
. Not only was it one of the worst attempts at branching out to be witnessed that side of the decade, but its failure echoed so loud that The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus had no choice but to scrap everything and go back to the basics. Am I the Enemy
is the foundation the band has laid for what they hope will be a fresh start - something they have desperately needed ever since “Face Down” stopped circulating the airwaves. It is a significant improvement indeed, but unfortunately, it is still a far cry from resurrecting the career of a band that is starting to be forgotten altogether.
There is no denying that Am I the Enemy
carries an element of livelihood not heard in quite some time, at least not by RJA. Sing/scream-along choruses, machinegun drumming, and tasty guitar riffs light up the record, and give it an unmistakable energy that was sorely lacking on the mainstream-leaning Lonely Road
. For being mostly
a pop-punk band, The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus have incorporated plenty of post-hardcore, emo, and metal influences over the years, and despite their recent missteps, it is good to see those characteristics return to their sound. ‘Reap’ is a prime illustration, driven by a bass-heavy drum line, filthily distorted electric guitars, and a screamo introduction that gradually gives way to the clean vocals in the chorus. The best part about their return to heaviness is that it isn’t a gimmick. It can be heard and felt from the urgency of ‘Salvation’ to the chugging riffs and coarse background vocals of ‘Choke.’ While the plethora of enormous hooks and radio-ready choruses may deter people upon initial inspection, the truth of the matter is that The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus have, perhaps for the first time in their career, found a balance in catchiness and intensity that actually works for them. On Am I the Enemy
, they seem to be aware of this and much to their advantage, they took off running with it.
Despite the resurgence of vigor in the band’s sound, their pitfalls are noticeably the same. They still write music for teenagers, as each song is filled with angst that could pop the pimples right off your face. The lyrics expectedly follow suit, and there is not much worth commenting on in that department. They also fail to show any improvement in their song structuring, awkwardly cramming guitar solos into places they don’t belong (‘Fall From Grace’) and inserting bursts of screams into poppier tracks just to give listeners the illusion that RJA is still rocking the fuck
out when really they checked out four songs ago. That kind of thing works when you are thirteen, but for listeners and supposedly maturing artists alike, it feels strained. Although Am I the Enemy
has its share of infectious songs, it also lacks the ability to be consistently memorable. It is all too easy to get lost in the repetitive instrumentation and similar sounding verses to maintain a vested interest in what’s going on. At times you may even press the skip button out of impulse, and not even realize that you are no longer listening to the record anymore until forty minutes later. It’s that
predictable. Considering all of the raw energy that this album exudes, it is a crying shame that so much of it goes to waste due to a basic lack of ideas. Nevertheless, that is the situation that Am I the Enemy
places in front of us, and it puts an awfully low ceiling on what could have been a return to form for RJA.
The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus’ latest offering shows signs of life, which is a step in a positive direction. The general consensus was that they had nowhere to go but up from Lonely Road
, and mercifully, they proved us right. Despite sounding overproduced at times, Am I the Enemy
seems like the product of a band that genuinely relishes its clean slate, and there are many likable moments no matter what perspective you look at it from. It’s pretty catchy, far heavier than anything they have done since Don’t You Fake It
, and it seems like it would do very well during live shows. In short, this album is fun
. However, with a clean slate comes added responsibility and vamped up maturity – and those appear to be facets of music that The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus are not ready for. They can go back and recreate their old sound, but they can’t carve a new niche for themselves. They can feign heaviness, but they are never brutal
. Basically, they are still the boys who brought us “Face Down” who can’t match the success of that hit and are simultaneously unable to become real men who growl and shred like the metal and post-hardcore icons they imitate. It’s either nostalgic or it’s pathetic, but either way The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus need to do better.