Review Summary: We're Doomed.
It is about time Conor Oberst and company have teamed up again to bring us the newest politically driven punk album from Desaparecidos. Payola is the next chapter of socially conscious narratives from a man who is so used to narrating the angst of his own troubles against the world. Actually, it seems perfect that Oberst is again at the center of hot topics to write about. He tackles the issues of Mayor Joe in 'Marikkkopa' and even makes fun at everyone who thinks their extra dollar is actually saving people in 'Slacktivist.' As we are seen wearing our wristbands promoting a cure for a cause, the music is actually catchy and, well, fun. How many times does an Oberst driven record feel upbeat and positive? That is perhaps the most exciting part of Payola and also it's biggest downfall.
'City On The Hill' offers us the first of many anthemic songs that will ignite, even if for a second, the revolting side of our free will. The driving guitar lines mixed with that damned intriguing tremolo note fluttering between the heavy chords makes the call to protest strong within our hearts. The chorus is sporadic and full to the brim of Oberst's most visceral voice, approaching a raspy and desperate comment on our Capitol. The issue with the rest of the album is about every song offers the same angst and urgent call to action in his voice. 'MariKKKopa' has a similar structured chord progression minus the tremolo note, really beating on the stop and go's in the chorus to effectively showcase the frustrated Oberst narration. Laura Jane adds her own spark of enraged vocals on 'Golden Parachutes' which is to be expected of an album meant to rally the troops, so to speak.
'Te Amo Camila Vallejo' is perhaps the most memorable vocal deliveries across the entire album. The melodies are rich with that wiry voice producing emotions that could suit a proper love song. The pain and heart of the delivery is enough to keep me coming back and singing along every time. 'Backsell' is another highlight of the album, using dynamics and stellar syncopated bass/drum lines to create a natural build in the song that isn't cliche. The song appears to be a rant about how Oberst became such a wanted musician as he was releasing more and more critically acclaimed material in the early 2000's. 'Von Maur Massacre' is the arch nemesis to the club dance song, instead marching forward with synth beats and aggressive guitars backed by an assault on the drum kit.
What would a Conor Oberst project without biting sarcasm that questions everything we are trying to get behind? 'Slacktivist' and '10 Steps Behind' offer the everyday punk song reversing the narrative on how lazy and indulgent we as a country have become. The former song has plenty of lyrics that mock our small donations that really provide nothing to the cause of help, instead reminding us "There's so much to do we can get it done." But there are certain social issues that Oberst hits right on the spot, like the endorphin release closing track 'Anonymous' which brings back the rally into one final anthem to close off a rather short album.
Listening to the album from front to back can be an exhausting process. A majority of the songs clock in around the same time and pace, giving them a muffling effect. It is a lot of material to cover at 14 songs lasting only 32 minutes. Every song has a loud and forceful chorus, often marked by a two step approach to the drums and a quickened chord progression, never really distinguishing themselves apart from other songs except by lyrical content. One could very much put the album on shuffle and process the album in the exact same jumbled manner. Still, listening to all the songs on Payola is nothing short of an adrenaline rush of fun, I just wish there was more variety.