Okay, so I'm aware that I'm the first reviewer to NOT give this album 5 stars. Let the poorly typed lashings begin.
The Devil Wears Prada has taken the music world by storm over these past few years. It's easy to see why a lot of listeners would find them so appealing. A slew of breakdowns, harsh and unpolished screaming mixed with cleans that would make Craig Owens sob, semi-predictable song structures and an amazingly engaging live show. Sounds to me like you've got all the workings to make all the girl-pants wearing, scene kid semi-hipsters salivate. That seems to be TDWPs' main weakness, though. They have all of the appeal, yet lack a certain amount of originality and artistic integrity. But I will tell you this...TDWP does what they do better than about 98% of the others. Now on to the album.
'With Roots Above...' opens with an amazing little slice of metal bliss. 'Sassafras' is possibly the most intense and immediately rewarding track on the album. Right from the beginning you feel the emotion that lead vocalist Mike Hranica is spewing with every word. Jeremy also has some of his best vocals from the album located on this song. There are some sick runs from bassist Andy Trick here, as well. Great track, through and through. But once you reach 'I hate Buffering' you begin to realize something very disappointing. Jeremy seems to have lost the majority of his power. On 'Dear Love' and 'Plagues' it seemed that every time he sang...there was a purpose. His voice soared. It was full of longing and emotion. Now, for the most part, it just seems forced and overly produced. The obvious exceptions though, would be 'Sassafras', 'Dez Moines' and 'Ben Has A Kid'.
Now that I have mentioned a flaw, it's time again for one of the good things about the album. James Baney seems to be working the synth into the songs way more fluently. Sure he did amazingly well in 'Dogscangrowbeardsallover' and 'Nickels Is Money, Too'...but aside from those tracks and a few places in a couple of others, he almost went un-noticed. He is actually the driving force of quite a few song on this release. Mainly the powerhouse of a track known as 'Gimme Half'. His contributions to 'Ben Has A Kid' are also very evident, and helped make it the highlight track of the entire album. I think it should be noted as well that the opening of 'Big Wiggly Style' is one of the coolest intros to a song I have ever heard. Too bad the rest of the song isn't as engaging. Oh well.
Now onto another complaint. A lot of people are saying that TDWP have 'grown tremendously' as artists with this new album. I would have to fully disagree with this statement. Since when is incorporating a 'verse-chorus-verse-chorus' song structure into half of the songs considered 'growth'? Sure 'Reptar...' had a chorus...but it was one of the weaker songs from 'Plagues' for that reason, if you ask me. Now I'm not saying that predictable song structures are BAD, by any means. And it works very well (again) for 'Ben Has A Kid', but flops like none other for songs like 'Danger: Wildman' and 'Wapakalypse', the two weakest songs from the album. It is nice to see a 'slow' song incorporated into the mix, though. 'Louder Than Thunder' is a nice little gem. Although it's nothing revolutionary, it's still quite enjoyable.
Another small annoyance was 'Lord Xenu'. It's not a BAD song, it's just the wrong choice for an album closer. TDWP have always crafted beautiful and powerful closing tracks. This one just seems under-thought and lacks a lot of power. Honestly I think that 'Assistant To The Regional Manager' (another big highlight) would have been an AMAZING ending track. But whatever. I'm sure the boys of TDWP had a reason for making "Lord Xenu' the ending song. It just doesn't work for me.
For my final thoughts, I would like to say that I'm still a fan of TDWP and their live shows will always make up for anything they do...I'm just not the BIGGEST fan of this particular release. They know what their die-hard fans want, though, and they have delivered just that. I know a lot of people will praise this album as TDWPs' best, simply because its lack of originality and for sticking to the same formula. Maybe if they would have left the roots below a little bit longer it would have grown a stronger album.
Eat it up. Because I know you will. No matter what I say.