Review Summary: Round peg in a square hole.
Everyone loves revolution. Everyone's gotten mad at something in society and wanted to change it. Everyone's romanticized their fight against Societal Evil X. But for most of us, our grand revolutions never go beyond the "vague concept" stage. Enter Flobots, whose 2007 album Fight With Tools
struck a chord in many a would-be revolter, despite strong critical opposition. They told us that "There Is a War Going On for Your Mind," but "We Are Winning," that all we had to do was "Stand Up" and "Rise." Wrapping up such hopeful sentiments in an easily palatable hip-hop/rock mixture with some surprisingly tight instrumental work and huge choruses, it's no surprise that "Handlebars" single-handedly dominated radios everywhere for months, and that the band earned a cult following.
Funny, then, how the band that captivated millions by calling for a revolution has lost all will to revolt.
MCs Jonny5 and Brer Rabbit's message was heavy-handed throughout Fight With Tools
and its follow-up, Survival Story
, but left-wing calls to action are nothing new in the rap-rock forum. They made their formula work almost by passion alone. The Circle In The Square
, however, is without focus or fire. It's bland and misguided, devoid of the sincerity that made a hokey chorus of "Together we rise" a genuine anthem. There is no urgency, no call to arms...only a celebration of being different than a nebulous "them," if anything. Plenty of songs pass by with no clear meaning at all.
The title cut epitomizes this celebration, though it actually succeeds in creating a decent song in the meantime. The hook is an earworm despite its cheese, Mackenzie Gault's viola work gives the verses an energy boost, and Jonny5's cries of "El pueblo, unido, jama sera vencido" ("The people, united, will never be defeated") hearken at least vaguely to the old days. But things quickly dissolve into a mushy sea of Facebook quote page platitudes ("If the sun will rise even one more time, so will I, so will I" in "Run (Run Run Run)," "As for me, I'm gonna be free, I'm gonna be free from all of this history" in the snoozefest "Gonna Be Free"). Songs titles like "Occupyearth" and "Stop the Apocalypse" would hint at some sort of anthem, but they both dance around revolutionary ideals without embracing any.
One would hope that the band's underrated rhythm section would rise to the occasion as the MC's flounder, but alas, they are inconsistent at best. "Gonna Be Free"'s already terrible chorus is made worse by a frustratingly elementary groove. "The Rose and The Thistle" never deviates from its simplistic drum beat, and Gault's vocal performance seems to prevent her normally solid viola work from shining. Most of the album, though, simply passes as musically forgettable, leaving Jonny5 to render a mediocre song terrible with a line like "We stand for the we like Nintendo tennis." Only once do the Flobots strike gold, and that is with "Wrestling Israel," a dramatic, musically cliché song that brings to mind the terrible "Good Soldier" but redeems it with some genuinely poignant religious musings.
This is far from enough to redeem the album, though. Survival Story
was a disappointment in its own right; The Circle In The Square
seems to establish Fight With Tools
as a fluke. Nothing here comes close to stirring any sort of revolutionary fervor, even a vague one. "Stop the Apocalypse" was the album's original name, and changing said name only revealed the band's sudden aversion to actually crafting an anthemic album for a generation that needs one. What's left is a group of talented musicians without a solid voice, a pair of MCs losing their chemistry, and a half-hearted album in a tired genre.