Review Summary: 'Up in the Attic' is basically '3rd Draft' with at least one new track in a hard copy format. The music is, as usual, great fun, and new guitarist Joe Hill complements the always-solid band wonderfully with his leads, licks, and main riffs.
After a near-fatal bus crash in Europe, label issues, and some line-up adjustments, Californian hard rockers Alien Ant Farm have been met with a substantial amount of adversity in the past couple years. Even still, amidst lengthy therapy and recuperation, as well as losing former guitarist Terry Corso due to the ever-popular reason of "irreconcilable differences," Alien Ant Farm kept on truckin' and recorded thirteen new tracks with the core line-up of frontman Dryden Mitchell, bassist Tye Zamora, drummer Mike Cosgrove, and new axeman Joe Hill, a long-time friend and musical colleague. Explains Cosgrove: "When Dryden and I were fourteen, we loved a band called Spiderworks and we'd go to their shows all the time. I used to write them fan letters. It's weird that years later their guitar player is now in our band."
The thirteen tracks were recorded for the fan-named 3rd Draft
, but their first label, DreamWorks, folded, and the Geffen company dropped Alien Ant Farm from its label after hearing it; further, to add insult to injury, Geffen refused to let the band release the album commercially. However, the band made bootleg copies of 3rd Draft
available on a 2005 tour as well as through the Internet, and eventually Geffen allowed the band to release the album through Universal Music Group. Along with the original thirteen tracks, the band added an additional track, Forgive And Forget
, and Alien Ant Farm were officially back. But speculation remained: would Corso's departure affect the band, or would Joe Hill make people go, "Terry who?" Is there a good reason why Geffen did not allow the band to release the album commercially?
For an album that was filled with such cerebration and questions, Up in the Attic
does not disappoint, especially with the guitars. Joe Hill's debut with the band is phenomenal and completely crushes any hesitation doubters may have: his intricate juxtaposition of wah and distortion, coupled with the liberal use of heavy chord-driven riffs to drive the music, blows away Alien Ant Farm's previous guitarwork. Hill's best asset to the band, though, is through his lead licks and solos, which were barely implemented in the Californian outfit's previous albums. Make no mistake: Joe Hill's talent elevates Alien Ant Farm's music to a level not previously reached through not only his main riffs, but in his subtle licks and solos that he expertly throws in when it counts.
Fans of Alien Ant Farm can expect to hear terrific effort from the band's rhythm section, comprised of Zamora and Cosgrove. Both men are extremely underrated musicians who contribute something unique to the band outside of their respective bass and drumkit duties: Zamora's back-up vocals are once again spot-on, and Cosgrove continues to tinker with other percussion outside of his kit. For instance, She's Only Evil
sees Cosgrove away from his kit and sporting only a washboard-esque instrument. Combined with the much more technically and fundamentally sound Hill, the instrumentation found on Up in the Attic
makes for an extremely pleasing listening experience. Vocally, Mitchell hasn't missed a beat, either: his chops and range are still there, and he can still sustain longer notes with his usual piss-and-vinegar gusto as well as maintain his mellower side. Lastly, Alien Ant Farm continue to do experiment with other musical arrangements, once again re-introducing an orchestra, a brass section, samples, and piano to some tracks.
Right from the get-go, Up in the Attic
has the tenacity to rock your face off. Bad Morning
opens the album with a few seconds of silence before the cacophonous ringing of an alarm clock blares; immediately after, the band unleashes some of its heaviest material to date. A thunderous power chord-driven assault from Hill and thunderous drumwork from Mike Cosgrove kicks off the instrumentation and aptly jumpstarts the album on a rollicking note. The song never lets up, even when Mitchell enters in the verses lyrically toying with the annoyance of having to wake up, singing, "My mama told me there would be days like this, and it's true - there's no feeling," while Hill's aggressive riffage makes the listener believe that he's been with the band since the very beginning. Around the Block
, Forgive And Forget
, and the chock-full-of-guitar-lickin'-goodness What I Feel Is Mine
are also spectacular tracks that tilt towards the heavier end of the spectrum on the album, although they are much more moderate in pace when compared to the sonic assault that is the album opener.
Around the Block
is arguably the best track on the album due to its well-rounded feel. From the opening guitar riff, to the gradual addition of Cosgrove and Zamora, to the song's conclusion, Around the Block
is a definite highlight. One of the most memorable aspects of the track is Cosgrove's involvement, in which he employs enough cowbell that even Christopher Walken would approve. Mitchell's wit also takes centerstage in the verses, with him remarking, "I've got friends in the highest places; they all got their goals. I've got friends with two faces, but don't have one damn soul." Mitchell's banter also is the main focus of the additional Up in the Attic
track Forgive And Forget
, where he gives his ex-lover a litany of items he has purchased for her, from romantic movies to jewelry, while eventually coming to the wonderful realization regarding his ex that all men have had at some point: "Fuck
, you're expensive!"
The album also features a number of solid songs that are much more chilled out in nature. Crickets
and San Sebastian
best exemplify this quality. In the latter track, Hill has some splendid licks, and the rhythm section is excellent. The track is a definitive love-lost track, which is Mitchell's forte: "So I'll go through this again, hear you say that we're just friends - I'll drown in a thousand lakes if it means that you'll miss me," before a searing guitar slide turns his somber crooning to a shout that seemingly falls on his ex-lover's deaf ears. The affable, sincere Crickets
is the best of the mellower songs because each member is at his best, especially the guitarists. The verses are extremely tender, while the pre-chorus and chorus are much more clement.
What makes Up in the Attic
a frustrating listen is primarily in its organization. The highlight heavier tracks previously outlined all fall within the first third of the album, and the best mellower tracks are towards the middle of the album. This gives the album an unbalanced feel, especially considering how heavily and swiftly the album opens with Bad Morning
. As the album goes on, Alien Ant Farm loses its hard rock edge and becomes more pop-oriented. With a little more balance and mixing of the heavier and lighter material, the album would have a bit more balance. One other problem found in this album is when one piece of the quartet cog breaks down. For instance, the album's acoustic closer She's Only Evil
is a captivating listen, save for Mitchell's incredibly silly vocals, which include, "Beyond the basement, there lives a girl there - she's got a face and a lot of hair." Even the usually-solid instrumentation is susceptible to faltering in some spots on the album.
Overall, Up in the Attic
is a great listen. It is not Alien Ant Farm's best album to date, but a couple of their best songs can be found on here, especially Around the Block
, Bad Morning
, and Crickets
. The band's distinct tongue-in-cheek humor and songwriting is still palpable, and fans of Mitchell's musings about love and relationships will not be disappointed. The biggest highlight on this album, hands-down, is new guitarist Joe Hill, whose main riffs and marvelous lead licks and solos make the album a terrific listen in terms of guitarwork. As always, Zamora and Cosgrove are inventive and innovative, both having times to shine throughout the album individually and as a whole. However, the album does lull in a number of spots as well, primarily due to the awful organization that the album has with its best tracks being lumped at the beginning and the weaker tracks being thrown at the end of the album. Up in the Attic
is definitely a worthwhile pick-up, especially to hear how much the instrumentation has improved with the introduction of Joe Hill. On a more somber note, Up in the Attic
marks the end of Tye Zamora's career with Alien Ant Farm. The pudgy fan-favorite, who electrified audiences and listeners with his six-string bass and charismatic stage antics, left the band after recording this album to finish pursuing his degree in college. Above all, though, Up in the Attic
is a fun listen despite its shortcomings, and its first half especially is highly recommended for listening.
Around the Block
Forgive and Forget