Review Summary: Welcome to Hollywood Undead's world view. In which Fred Durst is Jesus H. Christ and Zack de la Rocha is some kind of latte.
I'll just come out swinging here: Hollywood Undead's last album wasn't horrid. No, seriously.
It had its flaws, to be sure. A lot of them. It was obscenely unfocused sonically and verbally, drifting back and forth from rockers to ballads to pseudo-hip-hop, and alternating between hedonistic idiocy and ill-founded whining. Clearly, not a spectacular work of art. But the interplay between the different vocalists, the somewhat obnoxious lyrics, and the genre blend managed to work surprisingly well on some of the songs. Simple? Yes. Stupid? Oh good god, yes. Kind of fun? Most certainly, provided you delete a few tracks. So if Hollywood Undead had paid any attention to themselves or critical reaction, figured out exactly what worked about American Tragedy
, and lessened the gap that the listener was forced to jump across every time the band switched musical and lyrical gears, they would have had another tolerable rap-rock record - probably their best yet, seeing as how they had already taken a serious step up from the garbage that is Swan Songs
But self-evaluation, or any level of thought process above that of a YouTube comment, doesn't fit with HU's modus operandi. Which makes sense – they've always decried anybody, both in song and in interview, who doesn't enjoy their music as just not understanding how good it is. In short, they're a pack of spoiled white frat boys who are under the delusional impression that they're doing something important, and that any criticism is invalid. They've never been forced to become legitimate adults because people continue to throw money at them, and so they’ll probably never change – and if they do, it won’t be for the better. And this becomes even clearer when you listen to Notes From the Underground
Why’s that? Because this album is so mind-bogglingly dull that the few songs that stand out, despite the fact that they’re really, really bad
, are a break from the monotony. American Tragedy
had quite a few songs that could at least keep someone listening – “Been to Hell”, “Apologize”, “Lights Out” all had catchy choruses, rapping that walked a line between entertaining and exasperating, and some good instrumentation that melded heavy but simple rock with danceable electronics. On NFTU
, almost no songs have any sort of effect to rope the listener in: they’re bland, boringly executed, and far from catchy. “Lion” is one of the worst offenders. The fourth track has the nonsensical complaint/boast lyrical combination, the guitar crunch, the grossly overproduced chorus – and yet, nothing about it is memorable. Not the rapping, not the music, not even the chorus that was clearly designed to stick in one’s head. The song just flows by without leaving any impression other than “well, that was blandly irritating and vice versa”, as do “Believe”, “Outside”, and “Another Way Out”.
“Rain” is mildly interesting due to its soft guitar-based backing track, but Johnny 3 Tears’ and Charlie Scene’s raps, which seem to be a solemn message in response to a beloved soldier’s death but are so muddled syntactically that it’s hard to tell, and the ridiculously cliché chorus (“I don’t mind, I don’t mind, I don’t mind the rain/Like a widow’s heart, we fall apart, but never fade away) kill it quickly. As for the other tracks that do manage to stand out, they do so more due to quality’s absence than its presence. “From the Ground” is an auditory trainwreck, as the band switches from a soft piano line to a System of a Down-style thrash riff, before delving into industrial sounds that would please Trent Reznor if he were properly intoxicated. This would be one of the better songs on NFTU
, as the instrumentation throughout the verse is surprisingly good with a piano/bass combo, and the lightning-fast riff is new and attention-grabbing. But the song changes itself up so frequently that it’s impossible for the listener to enjoy: the band is trying to be System of a Down, Kesha, Nine Inch Nails, and Linkin Park all at the same time on “From the Ground”, and that’s a bad idea purely because LOOK AT THAT SENTENCE AGAIN. It’s also another lyrical mess, about depressed anger over…something? It doesn’t have the charm or direction of the like-minded songs on American Tragedy
– and that just about sums up Notes From the Underground
A few more songs should be noted, because they are significant: Lead single “We Are” is a rehash of “Young” from their first album, but with the same lyrical aimlessness that pervades the rest of this album. It’s an attempt at a defense of the disenfranchised, and certainly coke fiends and “the lonely” could use an anthem to boost their spirits. Trying to disparage artists for sending messages of solidarity to suburban white teens is pointless, because somebody needs to, and good songs have been made before out of such. Hollywood Undead, however, are not the band to do it, because they can’t organize their words coherently – perhaps due to a lack of intelligence, or perhaps because they’re just putting together buzz-words to elicit a reaction. The song’s supposedly unifying message is defeated even further when followed up immediately by “Pigskin”, which features such brilliance as “I’m icy, like ice cream” and “And all the ladies want me to beat them cheeks/And all you haters, go beat your meat”. The contrast between the two songs – “We Are” being whiny rap-rock, “Pigskin” being hedonistic hip-hop with an aggravating beat – is so sharp and irritating that neither ends up being tolerable to listen to, and their legitimacy is shot once more. Album opener “Dead Bite” includes more than one date rape joke (“rag smell chloroform roofie” or something like that, I didn’t want to look it up), as Charlie Scene and cohorts fail to understand how shock value works. It's clearly intended to be a joke, but it falls flat because there is no irony to it - when six frat boys talk about inciting gang violence, most people realize they’d never do it. But when those same six frat boys talk about slipping roofies or using chloroform rags, that sounds exactly like something they might do, and it makes the listen even less comfortable amidst the wince-worthy gangster posturing of “Dead Bite” – a shame, since the chorus is pretty good despite being a not-totally-subtle attempt at capitalizing on first world culture’s zombie fascination.
Notes From the Underground
is what happens when an already mediocre band fails to understand what made them even remotely appealing. It’s vapid, vulgar, uncomfortable, and unintelligent – but even worse, it’s not fun. Whereas American Tragedy
’s problem was that the album as a whole was unfocused, NFTU
’s is that every song is unfocused – trying to switch between genres in a herky-jerky manner, and cobbling together as many words that rhyme as possible without regard for whether or not they actually mean anything at all. The few songs that could work musically are brought down by the lyrics ("Kill Everyone", "Dead Bite"), and the few songs that could work lyrically are brought down because they don’t exist (). Don’t even give this your time if you feel like hearing something that’s comically bad like their first album or a good portion of their second, because this isn’t. It’s jut cringe-inducing.