Every Tuesday, Dan Weiss runs down the week’s new full-length music releases, from charting hits to more obscure depths, the underrated and the overrated, from a critical pop fan’s perspective.
ALBUM OF THE WEEK: Five Finger Death Punch – The Wrong Side of Heaven and the Righteous Side of Hell, Vol. 2 (Prospect Park)
The only album this week that delivers what it promises—Five Finger Death Punch sound like a five-finger death punch. That is, an uncreative but reliable blunt force, with the occasional guitar harmony, impressive Chinese Democracy guitar solos, melody and lyrics that vary things up without distracting from the skull-cracking, Meshuggah-learned motor-propellor of the dual kick drum. And if Ivan Moody’s melisma on the piano and strings-heavy tear-vehicle “Cold” has far too many James Hetfield-isms in it, Jeremy Spencer’s hypnotizing stutter-rolls on “Matter of Time” make up for it by earning the “groove metal” tag more accurately than Pantera ever did.
Daughtry – Baptized (RCA)
Chris Daughtry could win big in the long run — over Boston or even Back in Black. This is a guy who turned down an offer to join his favorite band Fuel after they lost a singer because he could make more on his own, and he was right: his debut album is the biggest-selling rock debut since Soundscan began. But we all know that’s because it wasn’t really his debut, and like Rick Springfield, he was a TV heartthrob with rock dreams. This includes joining his fellow D-heads Dokken, Dio and Danzig in a surname brand, er band, whose name has its own section on Wikipedia: “We could’ve come out with a really obscure name, but coming from the TV show and having name recognition, it was easier just to go with my last name.”
There are the usual pros and cons to his Idol roots, with his clean and s4lick voice occasionally trailing off in interesting ribbons, over some of the least interesting music ever made. His too-big-to-fail stature keeps it from being wholly unlistenable, and since it’s his fourth album, enough boredom has set in for him to Add Other Things. He challenges Katy Perry on the synthable “Waiting for Superman,” (which you bet her label wishes was on the fast-sinking Prism) and Nashville on the only thing here you might actually remember in 2014, a “Long Live Rock and Roll” that claims he prefers bad-for-business David Lee Roth to corporate-penguin Sammy Hagar. Far more believable is when, on “Long Live Rock and Roll”, the heartthrob can’t possibly conceive that Courtney Love (a woman!) wrote her own songs.
One Direction – Midnight Memories (Columbia/Syco)
Like their predatory best song, “What Makes You Beautiful,” they swipe their best line, “I spend her love until she’s broke” from Madonna’s “Spend your love on me” and Gaga’s “When you give me kisses, that’s money honey.” Not that it matters, because “Everything is new to me” Coldplays one of them on the airy ballad that, I swear, I correctly guessed was written by Ryan Tedder. No word on how much involvement Sting or Don Henley had on “Diana” though. Unlike Justin Timberlake, they really wish they were a rock band, so they hire some studio hands to make a real electric guitar squeal with feedback between palm mutes on a “Little Black Dress” with no lyrical evidence of a human inside it. But the power-pop chorus has no harmonies, kind of weird for a five-piece that could use them, which goes “I wanna see the way you move for me baby.” You’d think with 19 milli sold in a dead industry they could afford eye doctors. Damn…the healthcare system again.
Death Grips – Government Plates (self-released)
In an awful release week, you’d think an incoherent, out-of-nowhere Death Grips albatross would take on added dissonance. Instead they throw everything they lack into a blender and delete ideas like “songs” and “rapping” altogether, railing against Yeezus by leading with a riff with no notes—try and co-opt this, Mr. Kim Kardashian. The only reason they quote Bob Dylan is because they love martyrdom, the only reason they employ the timbres from a beheaded bounce track on “Two Heavens” is to proudly display how it no longer bounces. But at least “Two Heavens” adheres to some kind of Tibetan bowl clang. Too often we’re supposed to marvel at how they abruptly switch from one random programming sequence to the next, without making too much of the surrounding audio field, sticking to hyperquantized hyperactiveness like playing a badly scratched El-P CD. They aspire to be the Liars of rap, earning praise no matter how much they self-sabotage; The Money Store probably sounds like pop now compared to the randomness of “Birds.” But the only question they inspire is how much harsher the more tuneful Matangi would’ve been reviewed had M.I.A. put her vagina on the cover.