Every week, the music-loving creative team at Geeks + Gamers check out their most-anticipated New Releases, listening to them incessantly over the weekend. Three reviews are compiled and brought to you, the faithful reader. This week, Jonathan Youngblood and Michael Kaye tackle three of the newest, biggest album drops in rock, pop, and everything in between.
Witness by Katy Perry
In 2008, Katy Perry burst onto the scene with One of the Boys, a scandalous, controversial, and indescribably catchy collection of songs that seemed expertly-designed to rule Top 40 charts. With her followup album, Teenage Dream, Perry solidified her position as a popstar, a sex symbol, and a musical titan. With Witness, Perry’s fourth studio album, the singer known for sugary pop anthems and radio-friendly summer hits attempts to break out of her mold and tackle topics with more social weight. Unfortunately, this new effort is unable to shake off the conventions set in her previous work and, in the end, ends up making me miss the Katy Perry I loved so much almost a decade ago.
The largest problem with Witness comes down to its lyrical stupidity. In “Hey Hey Hey,” the song that is clearly designed to recreate Perry’s massive motivational hit, “Roar,” she sings “Cause I can be zen, and I can be the storm, yeah/Smell like a rose, and I pierce like a thorn, yeah/Karate chopping the clichés and norms all in a dress.” Fans do not go to Katy Perry for poetic greatness. However, when your songs attempt to tackle heavy issues like gender norms, you can only go so far on half-baked analogies. And, when your songs feature gems like “Your words are like Chinese water torture… They slither like a centipede,” perhaps you have reached the point where your creative team needs to be fired. Even vocally, one of the greatest strengths in the past of Perry’s albums, Witness is nowhere near impressive. Her incredible voice is barely serviceable here – overedited to the point of being almost unrecognizable and guised by the most cliché of beats.
This is not to say that every individual song on Witness is bad. Current radio hit, “Chained to the Rhythm” is undeniably catchy. “Miss You More” has the potential of becoming a career-best ballad and actually shows off the vocal range and power that made Katy Perry an instant star. However, the true weaknesses begin to show when you listen to Witness from Track One to Track 15. When doing this, you find a completely vanilla listening experience that is as uninspired and bland as the clichés that Perry attempts to criticize in her songs. There are worse albums out there and, as one might expect, Perry is still one of the better vocalists and creators in the business. However, when stacked up against her previous work, this is a dismal disappointment. Every album release over the course of Katy Perry’s career has taken a year longer to drop. If we are, as the pattern would indicate, five years from her comeback, it would not be ridiculous to assume that the age of Katy Perry’s dominance of the pop scene is over. -JY
Wolves by Rise Against
While pop punk may seem to be an endangered genre, there are bands on the heavier side of the spectrum that are still thriving. Rise Against is certainly an example of a band that has stood their ground since their start in 1999. Despite a few lineup changes mostly involving a revolving-door of lead guitarists, the band has really found its success since current lead guitarist Zach Blair joined in 2007. Ten years and four albums later, the band just keeps on rocking with their latest release, Wolves.
Originally titled Mourning in Amerika, this release was primarily inspired by the results of the 2016 Presidential Election. Given the band’s support of the Democratic Party, tracks like Wolves’ original title track, “Welcome to the Breakdown,” and “How Many Walls” are obviously in opposition to President Donald Trump’s views. In an interview with The Shrine Auditorium, lead vocalist Tim McIlrath stated that “Wolves isn’t about creating a safe space, it’s about creating a space that’s dangerous for injustice.” For the sake of keeping politics out of this album review, we will avoid analyzing the lyrics to some of Wolves’ greatest tracks line-by-line. That being said, McIlrath’s excellent work on the track “Politics of Love” deserves to be commended as it stands as one of the release’s best songs. It should be Rise Against’s next single, as people will have little trouble relating to its lyrical content.
As far as instrumentals go, this solid group of musicians delivers the excellent product one would expect. Each member of the band brings something unique to the table. Tim McIlrath belts out melodically aggressive lyrics, while his rhythm guitar work complements Zach Blair’s excellent leads. Bassist Joe Principe really gets to shine on tracks such as “Far From Perfect” and “Politics of Love.” Finally, Brandon Barnes kills it on the drums, giving songs like the title track and the lead single, “The Violence,” the energy that’s needed for a melodic hardcore record. I honestly can’t think of any notable criticisms that I have for the album. I will admit your enjoyment will come down to personal preference. If you thought Rise Against “sold out” ever since Appeal to Reason, then this album is not going to win you back. Other than that, Wolves is another rock-solid outing from a band that is showing no signs of slowing down. -MK
Heart Break by Lady Antebellum
Lady Antebellum received more commercial and critical success at the start of their career than most professionally-signed artists do over the course of their entire lives. In February of 2011, the pop/country group ruled the GRAMMY awards, taking home five trophies including “Record of the Year” and “Song of the Year” for Need You Now, beating industry giants like Jay-Z, Eminem, and Cee-Lo Green. Since then, the trio has been met with a moderate level of success. However, compared to their initial debut in the public eye, it would almost appear that they disappeared entirely. With their latest album, Heart Break, fans might see a return to success for Lady Antebellum. Featuring excellent work lyrically, vocally, and musically, Heart Break is an album with both the wide cross-genre appeal of Need You Now and the country-influences that have endeared the group to fans for the past decade.
The thing that instantly separates Lady Antebellum from their counterparts in pop or country is the strength of their vocal chemistry. Lead singers Hillary Scott and Charles Kelley share the spotlight with their traditional grace, supporting each other’s vocal strengths and highlighting each other’s performance skills masterfully. Beyond just the excellent title track, Heart Break contains such musical standout tracks as “Army” and “Home” that really show off the qualities that made Lady Antebellum stars from the start. The standard mildly-unoriginal tropes and clichés of pop/country still pop up from time to time, but by and large, Heart Break succeeds in offering new sounds and rhythms to the genre that sound uniquely different from the typical genre fare.
There are a fair amount of low points to be found here (“The Stars” being chief among them), and Lady Antebellum has, by no means, attained the lightning-in-a-bottle brilliance that catapulted Need You Now to such success. However, it is refreshing to hear this level of musical creativity from a band so solidified in who and what they are. Lady Antebellum has not reinvented their sound here or done anything shockingly new. However, within the set boundaries of their unique vision and style, there is much to love. As someone who is typically not a massive fan of country, I found myself deeply enjoying Heart Break on my first, second, and even third listen. It is, in my opinion, the best album to release this week and definitely worth your time (even if country is not normally your thing). -JY