Album Review: Papa Roach - 'Who Do You Trust?'

14 January 2019 | 2:56 pm | Alex Sievers
Originally Appeared In

Trust is a two way street.

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Less than 18 months after 2017's 'Crooked Teeth' released, Papa Roach have rushed out a follow-up: 'Who Do You Trust?'. While not a new classic or career highlight, 'Crooked Teeth' was a fine enough rock record. It's lead single, 'HELP', without a doubt showed that this group hadn't lost their solid songwriting knack, let alone their penchant for big riffs and bigger vocal hooks. Going from that last album to this new one, however, something definitely feels amiss. Like quality control went out the window between then and now. Like it's all trying to meet some sort of quick deadline.

Singer Jacoby Shaddix told Metal Hammer there'd be some bangers found on 'Who Do You Trust?'. But to reference that ever-popular Tyler The Creator GIF: "so that was a fucking lie". While there's the odd semi-decent track, be rest assured, there aren't any proper barn-burners to be had here.

Don't get me wrong, this record is all well-produced and polished stuff sonically. (Although, some of Jacoby's double-harmonies sound awful, like during the verses of 'Feel Like Home'). But despite the gleaming production shine, this record feels soulless at times. Everything from the vocals, instrumentation, and song structures feel so dumbed down and even a little obnoxious. To be fair, the writing's been on the walls for Papa Roach making a record like this for some time now. It's an inevitability. This is a fate most 90's bands who are still kickin' around today end up at. Now that it's arrived, I can't say that it was worth it or that it's paid off.

Technically speaking, Papa Roach's existence beats mine by about two years, so I don't have any "old man" cred to flex. But even I feel like this is trying to appease to some newer generation; some larger, fickle rock fan demographic. While it's nice to hear something different, it all sounds so targeted yet so aimless at the same time. These guys have been going for 25 years now, and doing the same thing over and over again would not only be boring, it'd also be super lame as well. So genuinely, good on 'em for trying to mix shit up now. Yet honesty should never be trumped by acceptance of something that's different. You shouldn't like something simply because it's undergone a change of some kind. That change has to, y'know, be good. And this ain't, I'm sorry to report.

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Papa Roach is trying to be fresh with their hook-friendly alt-rock sound, but also avoiding rehashing the rapping and nu-metal of their past. So that means adopting poppier, electronic elements into their rock format a la that last Tom Morello album. Albeit with zero collaborations, nowhere near as much ambition, and being far more repetitive too. (This album's title track is annoyingly repetitive, by the way). Which will be where the rub exists for some fans regarding 'Who Do You Trust?': older listeners may likely reject it outright due it being different yet seldom ever succeeding at its own changes. That, and the fact that it's really not "heavy" either.

If you're looking for a better pop-skewed record from a band coming from a similar era to Papa Roach, Linkin Park's 'One More Light' is the go-to. That may be heresy to some, but it is the better album from a rock band trying their hand at a trendy pop format. Because at least Linkin Park went all in. They knew what they wanted to create and didn't try to not have their cake and eat it too. Whereas 'Who Do You Trust?' haphazardly plants its feet in both the rock and pop graves simultaneously, hopping between the pair.

If you're one of those dullards that believe music can only be good if it features a loud, distorted guitar, then you might enjoy a fair chunk of Papa Roach's latest. As the album showcases guitars frequently, no matter the genre being charted. It ain't all synth. However, just because a band who shot to fame due to old albums like 'Infest', 'Lovehatetragedy' and 'Getting Away With Murder' is implementing generic rock guitars into their new pop-themed album doesn't make it good. Because it's not good. Other than the occasional cool lick or scratchy feedback, the guitars fall back on bland chord progressions, with the riffs barely leaping out with any kind of energy or urgency. Jerry Horton's guitars always feel so tame, like they're the bus from Speed and are afraid to go beyond a certain "speed" - i.e. volume and rhythm. The same applies to Tony Palermo's drumming too. It all makes for a muted, unexciting listen.

Case in point, 'Renegade Music'. Fitting into the band's rock-centric style, this is a poor man's Rage Against The Machine if I've ever heard one. It lacks the anger, power, and groove needed to make it the type of inspiring rock song it's trying so damned hard to be. For all of the song's talk about "taking your life back" and pushing things to "a new level", it does no such thing musically or lyrically. It is anything but a renegade or rebellious track. It's a rather shallow "Us vs Them" song too. Something you hate to see that from a band who has, for the most part, had a lot of heart, direction and passion displayed in their music over the years. Back when they were nu-metal or otherwise. But this is just sad.

I feel many older Papa Roach fans will get off to the hurried noises of the short-lived punk rock track, 'I Suffer Well'. Yet to me, it feels insulting. Like they're aware that many desperately want them to write heavier, faster music again so they threw this teaser in. While that's admittedly selfish on the listener's part, this track doesn't make good on that sneaky attitude either. A better example of said approach is Bring Me The Horizon's 'Heavy Metal', taken from new album 'Amo', in which Oli Sykes screams over heavier instrumentals as a way to push back against critical fans who just want them to be a shitty deathcore knock-off act again. But like that BMTH example, the inclusion of 'I Suffer Well' feels out of place when viewed through the wider lens of the record's sound. (Another example of this is Linkin Park's 'Victimized' from 2012's 'Living Things'). 'I Suffer Well' is also barely 90 seconds long and is pretty much over before it begins. It might as well not have been included, for all of the good it does.

Elsewhere, we have the doozy that is 'Elevate'. With its Top 40 pop undertones, zorby synths, wannabe-Imagine Dragons singalongs, and rattling hi-hats, this track is all manner of whack. It doesn't elevate the album so much as it holds it back, and the less said about it the better. On another weak and poppy note, we have 'Come Around', which is one of those major-key, uplifting pop-rock ballads that just feels so cheesy and phoned-in. I'm not sure what else we should expect from a Papa Roach album in the current year, but that doesn't mean the reality is any less disappointing. Pop music can be done well, and it can be effective, but the band's application of it here isn't.

In all fairness, one of these "experiments" that had real potential is 'Top of the World'. The DJ turntable scratching, Tobin Esperance's brooding bass parts, and the rockier guitars that drop in and out under electro-drums all create a solid foundation. But as soon as the radio-friendly, sappy chorus kicks in, the song loses all of its energy; it suddenly lacks the balls to properly deliver. Which is immensely frustrating from a listener standpoint too. On the flipside, there's the closer, 'Better Than Life'. It's an uplifting, heroic track which executes a similar dynamic to 'Top Of The World' but does so infinitely better. Too-little, too-late maybe, but at least it was something halfway decent.

The idea of trust and the "who" that Jacoby sings about on this album is hefty and nebulous in size. It's about trust being broken by dishonest family and friends; about trusting or not trusting yourself; about putting in or holding back trust in media; and about whether you'll trust the people in the streets or those in-power once "the Molotov drops". It's a 'take-on-all-comers' kind-of record for when you're "lost" at sea, as the album's front cover so deems. And you know what? There could've been some really solid inspiration and some really interesting commentary excavated from this idea, but only if there were better songs for that idea to work within. For that's where everything is let down: the songs.

Using their music as a vehicle, Papa Roach's frontman has always shared his personal thoughts and demons with the world since day one; dating back to their first couple of records. That's what attracted so many people to Papa Roach - the biting honesty and relatability that Jacoby offered up via song. While that's not entirely gone here, we do receive fewer quantities of that earnestness and openness across 'Who Do You Trust?'.

For one, the singer somewhat lazily talks about just merely "having problems" on the song 'Problems', yet doesn't elaborate further other than vague allusions. While an argument could be made that he's addressed many personal issues on past records, it still feels like a bit of a cop-out.

On a more positive note, the sole emotionally palpable moment of the record is the hulking and grungy 'Maniac'. Here, Jacoby sings and screams straight from the heart over sluggish drums and thickened bass work; sharing his deep and long battles with anxiety to the world. It's honestly a good song; a far more gripping track than anything else found on this emotionally barren LP. 'Maniac' is my standout pick, alongside opener 'The Ending' - a synthy-rock number that actually nails this album's pop-meets-rock mindset. A formula that barely worked anywhere else here.

Discussing this new Papa Roach album really does become a matter of who you choose to trust. For one, do you trust this band to still make a good record in 2019? Well, that's on you. Personally, I felt very little whilst taking my multiple trips through the muddied, gross waters of 'Who Do You Trust?'; a record that cannot make up its mind if it wants to be pop or rock, so it aims to be a bit of both, and really suffers from that as a result. The bad far outweighs the good here, I must say. But then again, do you even trust me as a reviewer to inform you as much about this record's sheer lack of quality? Again, that's all on you. And I hope you can trust your own judgement once this record drops on January 18th.

  1. The Ending
  2. Renegade Music
  3. Not The Only One
  4. Who Do You Trust?
  5. Elevate
  6. Come Around
  7. Feel Like Home
  8. Problems
  9. Top of the World
  10. I Suffer Well
  11. Maniac
  12. Better Than Life

'Who Do You Trust?' is out January 18th, 2019.