Review by Greg Maki
On its previous release, 2015’s “Up,” Pop Evil took its biggest turn yet toward the “pop” part of its name, leaning hard in the direction of alternative rock. The self-titled follow-up, the band’s fifth album, indicates that might have been a one-off detour, showing Pop Evil at its most aggressive and anthemic.
“Waking Lions” kicks off the record with a wall of guitars and double bass drumming (courtesy of Hayley Cramer, making her recording debut with the band)—it might be Pop Evil’s heaviest song to date. Track number two, “Colors Bleed,” introduces some Rage Against the Machine-style rapping from vocalist Leigh Kakaty and similarly Rage-like calls to action (“Step aside, watch the colors bleed/The rise of democracy/Fight the system/Stop and listen/True colors, how can you miss ‘em?/Born with knowledge, raise the fist/Face the enemy, just resist.”). It’s certainly more sophisticated than, say, “Boss’s Daughter” (from the 2011 album “War of Angels”), and the band has the versatility to pull off both effectively. (Full disclosure: I’ve never been a Rage fan, so I appreciate it when on a similar track, “Art of War,” Kakaty gives us a hooky, melodic chorus.)
“Be Legendary,” with a strong Shinedown vibe, sounds tailor-made for athletic arenas and stadiums around the world. A lot of bands try to write songs like this, and Pop Evil pulls it off better than most. The highlight of the album, “Nothing but Thieves,” comes exactly in the middle. It builds first like a latter-day Nine Inch Nails track, steadily gaining in volume until the full band comes in and lead guitarist Nick Fuelling plays one of his best solos.
The record’s second half doesn’t hold up quite as well as its first. ”A Crime to Remember” and “When We Were Young” go back to the well of alternative rock, and while I suppose there’s nothing inherently wrong with that, neither really gets off the ground. One more up-tempo, hard-rockin’ tune would’ve done wonders here. To be fair, there are no bad songs, and maybe the twinge of disappointment I feel simply is a reflection of how strong the first half of the record is.
(eOne Music, February 16, 2018)