Down to the album in question and The Connection certainly carries the ‘Roach signature of crunchy riffs, sing-along choruses and dirty basslines. However being 2012, their sixth effort hears them experiment a great deal with electronic and synth effects as well as, oh yes, dubstep – because you know everyone else has, so why not? After the subtle opening marching rhythm and heart-like pulses of ‘Engage’, you’re hit with a strong boot to the nether regions with the hard, defiant and ridiculously catchy ‘Still Swingin’. Jacoby goes old-skool by rapping/spitting through the verses before flexing those hoarse vocal chords in the single’s soaring choruses - “We’re just living for today, keep our light on in the haze. Yeah, forever we will stay. We are the one’s still swingin!” It’s exactly what you expect of them and yet it’s exactly what you love most about them. With a brief dubstep-tinged bridge, which isn’t actually all that bad, it builds back up into its reliable moshing groove to carry you to the end.
Follow-up ‘Where Did The Angels Go’ is a heavier slice of balls-to-the-wall rock with King Kong sized guitar riffs that’ll blow your door off. Its grand shout-along choruses aren’t anything new but underneath the big melodies are darker almost gothic-like synth notes which adds a neat twist. And this isn’t a one off; ‘Silence Is the Enemy’ is littered with electronic pulses and notes alongside the standard but expectedly strong hard and heavy backbone. “The whole time I was doing it I was thinking, 'What would Prodigy do?'" said bassist Tobin Esperance in our interview which helps piece the puzzle together behind the track (and album’s) thought process. Love it or loathe it, there’s more dubstep inspired creations here too. Like in ‘Before I Die’ for example, which has a slower dreamy quality in its bass-heavy verses; sounding more like what hit-and-miss heavyweight’s Linkin Park have experimented with in recent times. The difference being that Jacoby and co. still pack the punch required to hold your attention.
Another track to slow things down considerably and drive that bass into your cranium is ‘Not That Beautiful’. It features guest vocals from female singer/songwriter, Shahnaz who lends her powerful lungs to the song’s sky-scraper choruses; holding her own and harmonising contentedly next to the frontman. The truth is that even with the new styles bearing influence here, The Connection still sounds like good ol’ Papa Roach. Or I would go as far as saying it’s the best I’ve heard them in a long while. Both ‘Wish You Never Met Me’ and ‘Give Me Back My Life’ are rebellious, brash and loud. The latter boasts a great Muse-esque bassline, although the former has become a favourite with an astounding vocal performance from the gravelly singer. “Why can’t we start this over? What have we done to us? You say that you need closure! Are you just giving up on us?” he passionately and expertly howls in the refrains; his pain emphasized and touching. Axeman Jerry answers his wounded comrade in one moment with an echoed and skilful solo.
Another to have made a big impact on me is ‘Leader of the Broken Hearts’ which the band themselves described as “...kind of like in the vain of U2”; which in all fairness is actually the perfect way to describe it – especially the softer, melodic pop-driven verses in which drummer Tony Palermo drives it along confidently. There’s an epic stadium quality to it which they so effortlessly pull off and when the choruses kick in, it’s predictable but flawless. Jacoby apparently wrote the track whilst going through the break-up with his wife, hence some intense and emotional words that cut deep - “I’m holding out for more than I deserve. I’m hanging onto all your careless words. And it’s time I cut the cord. Maybe I stay and take some more”. As well as looking to progress their sound with new instruments and techniques, the ‘Roach have also gone back to their roots in a number of tracks. As well as in the opening ‘...Swingin’ single as mentioned earlier, ‘Won’t Let Up’ is another example that has that OTT gloss of nu-metal in its spoken verses. It in fact sounds eerily like fellow Californian four-piece, P.O.D. in their rap-rock days.
Although nostalgic, tracks like that don’t really demonstrate the journey that this band has made. Its song’s like the moody and imaginative closer, ‘As Far As I Remember’ which show true growth and wisdom. Written totally around an electronic foundation, it cleverly builds tension with pulsing and atmospheric effects before developing into a more familiar and brawny hard-rock piece. You’re repeatedly stung in the finale by the memorable words “I’d rather die on my feet, than live my life on my knees!”; a hugely affecting and suitably dramatic ending. Taking cues from Nine Inch Nails amongst others, it’s well thought out, stylish and a mature progression for the band.
With a sound that’s familiar yet new, Papa Roach have managed to assemble what could actually be their greatest album in a long time. It was a brave venture into pastures new, but the added effects and electronic influences have overall produced great results. Even with nearly twenty years under their studded belts, with The Connection in hand, the cocksure foursome are poised, strong and ready for the kill even more so than I realised possible.
The Connection is out now.
Worth Listening To...
- Still Swingin
- Where Did the Angels Go
- Wish You Never Met Me
- Leader of the Broken Hearts
- As Far As I Remember