Review Summary: it's only fun on the edge of oblivion
As a diehard +44, Untitled
and 'fervently ignoring all blink-182's bad qualities' fan, I appreciate Strange Love
's outsider status. It's the kind of throwaway, Hoppus-having-fun side project that would have been unthinkable ten or fifteen years ago (we can sing the praises of When Your Heart Stops Beating
all you want, believe me, but Mark doesn't particularly sound like he's having fun on that album). Simple Creatures is a breezy and short project, but its concerns are surprisingly dark and its language is one of suspicion, paranoia and poor decision-making, mostly with regards to drugs. There were feints towards this kind of writing on "Los Angeles" and "No Future", and I'd even argue that the finale of "Strange Love" plays out like a darker sequel to "Bored to Death" and its dirty-minded bridge. But this is the first full-bore descent into Mark Hoppus' introspective side since +44, or that project's spiritual cousins "Fighting the Gravity" and "Heart's All Gone". Accordingly, Strange Love
is overdramatic, self-serious and somehow even more overproduced than California
, bringing to mind the Linkin Park who married heartfelt, moving lyrics and melodies to faceless Top 40 background noise on One More Light
. By virtue of being much shorter and much catchier, Strange Love
strikes a more natural balance between its words and its music.
This EP is best when Hoppus plays the cynical older rockstar reflecting on the darkest moments of his road to fame, while Gaskarth steps in as the wide-eyed optimist with some obscenely catchy choruses. Two-and-a-half-minute blast "Strange Love" exemplifies this best; lines like "she traces lines across my skin then leaves me dancing on the razor's edge" and "you're just a crater of yourself and she's the fallen angel underneath" play against a hook that should rightfully dominate the airwaves all summer. The aptly titled "Adrenaline" marks an easy highlight by injecting some energy into proceedings, seeing Hoppus and Gaskarth break with the formula, trading words like "you're no Marie Antoinette / so save it for the internet" - either the EP's best or worst depending on taste - back and forth over a muted, grimy guitar riff. And though "Drug" is even more slathered in overproduction and 'na-na-nas', it establishes the lyrical tone of the following songs so well that the EP could easily be called Drug
, given the prominence of cautionary lyrics like "I ignored the warnings on a bottle full of pills and I stumbled off the rails for a summer". The non-single cuts are largely of a quieter ballad nature: "How to Live" suffers from a generic instrumental but allows Gaskarth the spotlight for a very strong vocal performance, "Ether" has a brooding, menacing beat that comes as a genuine surprise and "Lucy" reveals a little more bite to compensate for its cringey half-rapped pre-choruses. In under twenty minutes, Simple Creatures demonstrate a songwriting connection that feels more natural and earned than a lot of California
– a byproduct of Gaskarth having come up in the scene playing blink-182 covers and the lessened label interference in a side project, no doubt – and bring out shades of each other that fans have been waiting to hear for some time. I'm ready to see what they can do if they really let loose.