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Saturday, August 09, 2008

CD Review: Zebrahead - Phoenix

Zebrahead - Phoenix
2008 Icon Mes
Ray Van Horn, Jr.



Pop punk in today's revive everything scene is oxymoron lexicon if you adhere to the old school punk and hardcore code of antipop. Much of what's constituted as pop punk in modern times goes hand-in-hand with emo (having nothing in common with its originators, Rites of Spring and Dag Nasty) and has thus become a stagnant cash cow for the Hot Topic generation. Still, one has to consider that the early stages of punk rock as delivered by The Jam, The Buzzcocks, Talking Heads, Blondie and especially the Ramones were all pop at heart. Frequently you'll hear historians lament the fact the Ramones criminally fell through the cracks of seventies and eighties FM radio since their core base was well-founded through Motown, Phil Spector and fifties rock 'n roll, all pop in their own rights.

While you're not going to find a lot of pop punk and emo records here at The Metal Minute, you certainly will if something resonates of a high quality beyond the prototype Thursday and Silverstein clones. Orange County vets Zebrahead have been at their game of mashing punk, rap, ska, oi, scatters of metal, surf and of course pop for a decade now, and while the departure of rap-scat guitarist Justin Mauriello caused major distress in the Zebrahead camp (not to mention their loyal devotees), his replacement Matty Lewis filled the gap respectably on 2006's Broadcast to the World.

As of 2008, Lewis and his Zebrahead compadres are so in the zone on their new album Phoenix, everyone else in the pop punk ranks ought to be on the edge of vomiting with envy. Though Phoenix is hardly in the same class as the Beatles' Sgt. Peppers or the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds, Zebrahead in their own right have executed their genre's hallmark to beat.

For 16 songs, Phoenix pulls the trigger and stops only to reload along the way, checking out with the same energy burst on the closing cut "Sorry, But Your Friends Are Hot" as it begins with the initial speedy ticks of "HMP." Along the way, Zebrahead sets bar after bar with tunes reflecting contemporaries such as Taking Back Sunday, Green Day, 311, Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Reel Big Fish, early Sugar Ray and even U2, the latter on the peppy and effervescent post-adolscent march, "The Juggernauts." For good measure, Zebrahead even modifies English Beat's rank and skank of "Mirror In the Bathroom" on the verses of "Hell Yeah!"

Say what you will about Blink 182, those guys were masters of the hook, yet on Phoenix, Zebrahead can even take the Blink Boys to school with shrewedly written and fast-paced songs such as "Morse Code Is For Suckers," "HMP," "Just the Tip," "Ignite," "Death By Disco," "Mental Health" and "Two Wrongs Don't Make a Right."

The operative word for Phoenix is relentless as this album shucks and jives with airtight execution, fireball energy and ambitious string work from Lewis, Ben Osmundson and Greg Bergdorf, who sparkle inventively on every single song like metalheads and ska slingers hijacked into a pop punk unit and blaring their protest all the while secretly embracing it. They mesh beyond description on "Sorry But Your Friends Are Hot," "HMP" not to mention "All For None and None For All," "Brixton," and "Hell Yeah!" Lewis and Bergdorf's guitars are on the dime and frequently beautiful, always up to the monster pace Phoenix demands of them. By the time "Ignite" takes off on its gleeful ska spree, you have to admire their tenacity to keep this album pumping, and they nearly refuse to lay off even from there. When Zebrahead actually gives their audience a breath on the laidback ska step of "Mike Dexter Is An Asshole," rapper Ali Tabatabaee picks up the pace using his customary blazing delivery, with perhaps only the Fu Schnickens as his superior.

Zebrahead treads closely to being sacharrine lollies all over the place on Phoenix, but damn if they don't rescue themselves from turning prefab, even when "The Junkie and the Halo" amps up from its primary skippy and frolicky tempo. Whether or not you're tired of rap metal and rap punk, songs like "Brixton" or "Hit the Ground" still work like a charm because of their smart extraction and loud, punchy rhythms.

While not everyone is going to be converted to pop punk with Phoenix, by all means should you give this thing a try, because it boasts soaring melodies galore along with declarative endurance. Not just for the kiddies who don't want interloping adults listening in, Phoenix is dangerously addictive no matter your age bracket and it might possibly take the improbable position as the Sgt. Peppers of its ilk. Okay, so maybe that's being overzealous, but at the very least, Phoenix is the feelgood rock album of the summer...

Rating: ****1/2

8 comments:

John Kreuzer said...

I've been following Zebrahead for about 7 years now and have enjoyed each album so far. Although this isn't their best and most complete album, it still continues to rock! The band is great live! I highly suggest going to a show and seeing them live. It gives a whole new meaning to energy. Check out my review of the new album here:

http://kreuzer33.wordpress.com/2008/08/08/phoenix-rises-new-zebrahead-cd-released/

Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...

good stuff, thanks and welcome, John!

dataDyneDaz said...

That was a really well written review dude!

ColinStein said...

love me some ZH support, good job

Thousif Raza M.B said...

dude a good written review but up had to mention couple of tracks there

i mean my fav tracks are 'mental health' and two wrongs one

good writing keep up

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