This review can also be found at The Yorker.
I caught Gym Class Heroes with their second album, As Cruel as School Children, and it worked out well for my 15 year old self. It took a stance just on the fringe of what ANGSTY TEENS would listen to, kept a cool mix of rap and rock (because who didn’t have that foolish dichotomy in high school?), and did a neat job of being relevant – though I can only chuckle at the references to My Space in ‘New Friend Request’.
Though since then, while Gym Class Heroes haven’t exactly gotten worse, the image they portray has changed. The Papercut Chronicles II is in direct reference to their first album in 2005; but I don’t quite feel like that callback is apt, this is the lead vocalist Travis fitting into his mainstream role.
Things start out strong – skipping over the intro track, ‘Martyrial Girl$’ has a guitar and drumline aggressiveness and tension that reminds me of the sound direction for No More Heroes; punchy with a bit of grit, but not about to drive off those who wouldn’t be a fan of something too thrash-y.
The problem starts for me with the track, immediately following, ‘Life Goes On’. All sense of aggressiveness is lost, and it all goes in the direction of a love ballad – but with none of the funkiness, they managed to give that concept in the past. Even worse is that the style is pretty much repeated with a later track in ‘Ass Back Home, which feels incredibly weak.
Speaking of which, how did you feel about Maroon 5’s ‘Moves Like Jagger’? Did it make you cringe and despair like me? If so then you’ll absolutely love ‘Stereo Hearts’, which features Adam Levine’s once reasonable, but now grating crooning. The common theme between these three songs is the unnecessary guest artist. They all feel compromising, and the strength of these songs are considerably weakened as a result.
Indeed, ‘Solo Discotheque’ and ‘Holy Horses**t, Batman!’ are much closer to what I like about Gym Class Heroes, with ‘Holy’ being an amusing little ditty about scepticism over religion. Not exactly profound, but the funky bridge it has makes up for that.
‘Lazarus, Ze Gitan’ is the most hip-hop influenced, but the subject matter leaves a bad taste in my mouth. It’s another one of those songs where the male singer is all jaded about relationships, because no one’s ever good enough for them (but they’re so lonely, damn it!). That, coupled with the previous track’s Nil-Nil-Draw being a pouty break-up song (“But you’re too dumb to understand; I could have any girl,” says the chorus) makes Travis sound like a big jerk. And who knows, he may well be.
It’s cliché to say that a new album has none of the flavour that you once loved in a previous work, but I don’t know what else to say here. While I will come back to ‘Martyrial Girl$’, my love for Gym Class Heroes has remained firmly in 2006.