Words by Brian Salvatore
With Too, FIDLAR attempts to grow up, with mixed results.
I never feel comfortable blaming/judging a band for attempting to grow and adapt. No one wants to be a Vegas show, the same night in and night out, for years on end. I certainly don’t want to be judged on anything I did/said as a 21 year old, and so when a band says something similar, I get it.
The least likely of bands to clean up their sound and make an attempt at a (more) mainstream record, FIDLAR – short for ‘Fuck it dog, life’s a risk’ – made their equivalent of a mid-90s major label debut. Sure, they’re still on a small label, and there is no shortage of throat-shredding screams, but this has the sheen that is unmistakably a play at tipping the scales more towards pop than garage punk.
The biggest sonic difference between this and prior FIDLAR releases is the presence of what I’ll call “L.A. drums” – every track sounds like Tommy Lee was behind the kit, and not just for the epic nature of the beats. The drums are compressed to the hilt and sound like they’d be less out of place on a Sugar Ray or Fall Out Boy record. This is just one of the more easily identifiable differences that FIDLAR has added to their sound, but others are present, too. The vocals are far more out front and melodic, there are hints of keyboard that break through, and feedback is held to a minimum.
Songwise, the record is a real mixed bag – there are three distinct categories on this album: 1) songs that sound like what you’d expect FIDLAR to sound like, 2) songs that sound unlike FIDLAR, but really work, and 3) mall punk. These obviously aren’t hard and fast rules, and some tracks blur the lines between the three, but it is certainly a disjointed listening experience. “Sober,” a song about fighting addiction, sounds like a bad Sum 41 track, while dealing with an incredibly serious topic (main songwriter Zac Carper recently kicked his drug habit, which saw him doing heroin, methamphetamines, and smoking crack). “Generation Why” sounds, both in title and sonically, like a song that a marketing guy would tell a band he should write, to connect with ‘the kids.’
And yet, “Overdose” is understated and heart-wrenching, and much of the second half of the record really finds a balance between a desired melodic increase and the raw, uncompromising music that made their earlier releases so gripping. But the first half of the album is so spotty and glossy that it is a challenge to even make it to side two. In interviews about the record, Carper has stated how this album is an honest reaction to success and sobriety, and while I don’t doubt his sincerity, it is hard to hear that coming through my speakers. To me, this sounds like a very deliberate attempt – both in the press and on the record – to pivot from a band that built a reputation on party scuz rock to a more easily digestible product.
It is never easy to re-state your purpose, especially after gaining accolades for the way things used to be. With Too, FIDLAR deserve praise for going outside of their comfort zone and trying something new, but also need to take the blame for some subpar results Here’s hoping that their third full length will sound more genuine and less calculated, and will be yet another step forward.
© September 4th, 2015
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