Review Summary: Pepper fuck around, and the results are less than satisfying.
I hate using the term "selling out". There, I've said it. What constitutes a band to be labeled as a sellout? The fact that their songs get daily radio play? The number of teenage girls writing their names down in their notebooks with little hearts next to them? Is a sellout an artist who simply changes their style of music? Many of those statements are normally what happens in order for a band to "sell out". Were Green Day sellouts when American Idiot
introduced the dying band to a new generation of fans? Were Metallica sellouts just because The Black Album
sold 30 million copies? Regardless, once a band sells out, it is deemed "un-cool" to like them anymore, and they must become a laughingstock to "true music fans".
And that's exactly what happened to Pepper.
They started out as a pretty decent ska and reggae band, making albums like Kona Town
, and songs like "B.O.O.T." that weren't that bad. But over the years, their sound has become more mainstream, sounding more like Sublime with Rome than Slightly Stoopid. Their last album, Pink Crustaceans and Good Vibrations
, was undoubtedly their worst one yet. It was incredibly stale, and none of the songs were memorable. That's why when I heard that they were releasing a new album, even though it would be on Island Def Jam Records, I thought they could rebound from a few bland ones. I probably shouldn't have been surprised when their self-titled album was even more poppier than the rest.
Normally, when bands make their sound more mainstream, the goal is to make it more catchier so it can get radio play. But Pepper manage to do the exact opposite; by making their music more poppier, they lose their charm that they had on earlier, more ska-influenced records. Lead single "Fuck Around (All Night)" is one of few memorable songs on here, and that's because it has an actual catchy hook. Its lyrics may be typical stupid frat-boy sex bullshit, but at least I can sing along to its chorus, which I can't say for most of the tracks here. So many of the tracks on this album are completely bland, and it's all because of Kaleo Wassman's monotonous vocals. More times than not, it just seems as if he's completely lost his energy and passion for singing. On songs like "Deep Country" or "These Hands", he wears the entire track down due to his sheer lack of personality. "Undone", meanwhile, manages to hit a new low for Pepper because it's a ballad, and a rather boring ballad too, with the track highlighting the more annoying qualities of Wassman's vocals. "P.O.Y.L (Party of Your Life)" contains the line "but we've been livin' in a cliche", which is followed by the line "poppin' bottles on your birthday". Even without the hypocrisy, it's a terrible party song with a beat lifted straight out of any hip-hop song in the past five years.
Luckily, the album closes with some of the album's strongest tracks. "Come and Get Me" manages to be a decent return to reggae roots, even if it's only for three minutes, while "Don't You Know" actually has a pretty catchy chorus that sees Kaleo stretch his pipes a bit, and it actually ends up being one of the most memorable parts of the album. Ending track "Illuminate" has a pretty ear-grabbing guitar riff, and along with a semi-captivating hook, closes Pepper
on a good note. But three good tracks out of twelve isn't enough for a good album; hell, it's barely enough for a disappointing album. Pepper have clearly abandoned their ska-reggae roots, and have moved on to making mainstream music for the airwaves. But is that really a bad thing? If Pepper want to make pop songs and get rich off of them, who's stopping them? Certainly not me, they're already a lost cause.