Review Summary: Showbread once again re-defines their sound and recycles their back catalog into an incoherent conglomerate of sound, despite a few solid hooks and a couple decent songs.
After this album came out, a close friend of mine started texting me wanting to know what I thought. Back in high school, we were the biggest Showbread fans in our area, and we saw them play for the first time together. That was several years ago. I didn't know what to say, so I typed my thoughts into what is probably the longest album review ever written. I started from the beginning when I became an avid Showbread fan and worked my way through each album explaining my thoughts on them then and my thoughts on them now. To make a long story short, I feel like I've grown out of Showbread. This review is a drastically abridged version of what I wrote about Cancer.
Showbread's music in general is a messy conglomerate of genres stitched together haphazardly. This is especially the case with the almost seven minute long opening track "I'm Afraid That I'm Me." I'm somewhat torn with this track, because on one hand there are so many musical changes and genres thrown into one song that it makes me almost nauseous, and on the other hand it contains some of the strongest vocal melodies the group has ever put out. The musical changes are to be expected with Showbread, changing time signatures, tempos, even genres within a single song has never been an odd thing on a Showbread record. It just doesn't work here. The chorus of this one has the guitars doing ska-like upstroke picking patterns, which seems kind of out of place especially with the synths. This kind of guitar work appears on a later song, but admittedly it works better here than in the other one later in the album. The second song, "Sex With Strangers" is probably the best song on the album because it is one of the few on this record that sticks with a single feeling throughout the song. The guitar work is great, the drums sound awesome, and the bass is really solid as well. I think the level of the synth might have been a little too high for me, but overall this was the most cohesive song on the whole record, and one of the best songs they've put out in years.
I think I would have liked "Anarchy!" if it didn't fall prey to Showbread's ever present love of that descending chord progression apparent across all of their albums. For other examples of this, listen to "Never an Oceanographer," "Dear Music," the lead line and verses of "Matthias Replaces Judas," and "The Dirt (Alpha) (N)." These may not be in the same exact key, but the structure of the chord progressions is still more or less the same and portray the same feeling. The chorus of this song is so sugary sweet I think it gave my ears cavities. This isn't necessarily a cardinal sin, but I think the vocal harmonies mixed with the cheesy sounding organ push it way over the top. I'm not sure if this "poppier" sound is meant to be ironic, considering the lyrics are about not conforming to governmental standards. This statement of non-conformity seems counter-acted by the sound of the song. "Germ Cell Tumor" suffers from the same things that "I'm Afraid That I'm Me" does, except the melodies aren't as strong here. The difference in the tone and the feel of the song just within the first verse is counter-intuitive, and then the chorus comes in. It's danceable, but the harmonies once again are too much. This is another song on the record that has the guitars doing the ska-picking, and it definitely is not working here. Either the guitarist doing the picking was consistently early or the drummer playing the same beats with his hi-hat was consistently late. Either way, they're not in the pocket. I'm all for imperfect performances as long as they have charm, but this has no charm and is extremely difficult to listen to.
Most of my complaints have been repeating themselves. I keep using words like "cohesive" and "tone" and "feeling." Bear with me here. "Escape From Planet Cancer" is one that I especially have to use these words on. Listen to the first fifteen seconds of the track, and then skip ahead to about the 2:33 mark. These are sections that should not be in the same song. You have the song beginning with hardcore punk and ending on a Hanson-reminiscent sing along. I had to listen to the song several times because I could not believe where the song started and ended. Granted, they do a decent job of setting up the sing along section, but getting out of the hardcore punk section at the beginning was pretty rough. It just seems really forced. In fact, I could say that about most of the musical changes on the record. They all seem really forced and completely unnatural. The first two minutes of "You Will Die In A Prison" are a direct flashback to "Who Can Know It?" In fact, most of the song sounds like a nine minute attempt to bore the listener. At about the four minute mark, they throw in the lead line from "Matthias Replaces Judas" again.
The album ends with the exact same piano line that begins the album, seemingly signifying that Showbread are stuck in an endless cycle of re-defining and recycling. We've heard everything done here before, the rapid changes in genre mid-song, the non-conformist message, and even some of the chord progressions. I am willing to give this album another chance once I see the film that accompanies it. If all of the seemingly random and forced musical changes and the conflicting tones and feelings of the songs somehow work with the film, then I'll probably see it in a different light. I can't help but doubt it though. That would be the best thing that could happen with this album, but even if the album works with the film, it'll end up just like their Anorexia/Nervosa records, castrated when listened to on its own.