Listening to The Connection, Papa Roach’s eighth album of a 15-year career, a strange feeling of mysterious familiarity persists. What band from the depths of rock history are they milking to sustain their career for so long? And then it hits you. That’s right, it’s Papa Roach.
Back in 2001, on MTV2, you couldn’t escape them – and if you did, it was only into the waiting embrace of Sum 41, Nickelback, and Alien Ant Farm. Every 20 minutes, Coby Dick’s face would look at you with imploring puppy dog eyes, earnestly trying to convince the world that the fact he’d noticed that spousal abuse is passed down generations in Broken Home made the song worth listening to, before having a tantrum in a sandpit.
These days, Jacoby Shaddix (as he is known now) is no less fraught with anger, pain, and rocky relationships – and a relentless desire to communicate it. It is clear that he is a man with genuine issues around alcohol addiction and self-harm, and it is commendable that he works these issues out through writing and singing. But the sad truth is, all he is capable of lyrically is the most literal, hackneyed expression of his feelings, with no recourse to subtlety, analogy, or insight.
The result is a set of songs that, even in their titles, are ready-made for the type of chap who uses a car as their Facebook profile photo to tattoo into their arm: Give Me Back My Life, Leader Of The Broken Hearts, Where Did The Angels Go. And at its lowest, most bitter point, lines such as “every time I look into your eyes I see a demon in disguise” run uncomfortably close to David Brent’s “she’s the serpent who guards the gates of hell!”.
Still, there’s no questioning his sincerity, and he’s got a great, passionate voice, that runs through the hard rock gamut of screaming, singing, and reasonably convincing rap with experienced ease. The band, too, know how to rock – the opening riffs of Where Did The Angels Go and Give Me Back My Life are cast-iron fist-pumpers – but find themselves constantly restrained by the need to insert commercial, melodic choruses into every number.
It can’t help that production duties are handled by John Feldmann, whose previous credits – Mest, Good Charlotte, Attack Attack! – are a Who’s Who of everything that’s wrong with rock music right now. But there’s really no excuse for the appalling half-speed refrain of Still Swingin, like a half-arsed version of My Chemical Romance‘s Helena, or the pop-punk harmonising on Wish You Never Met Me.
There was a time when unhappy musicians sang happy songs, or sexy songs, or yearning songs, and you had to search hard for the heartbreak. Not any more. These days, you just need the tracklisting and a magazine interview. Papa Roach have the tools to be a damn good rock band, but they’ll never be one unless they change the bloody record.