War drums leading a slow march toward a new era. As "Spaghet" builds and eventually explodes, we're treated to an angier Fools experience. Previous 7-inches had hinted at a more complex sound that comes to fruition on this album. Gone are the days of folksy, boy girl pop-punk of their earliest releases. Gone is the dichotomy of optimism and bitterness prevalent on House Parts. All we're left with is rage and regret. Oh, and drugs. Lots and lots of drugs.
I would argue that this album doesn't have the standout tracks of House Parts, but it is their most cohesive album yet. Where that album reached highs that aren't quite attained here, it never falters. The production is much stronger, the songwriting is much stronger and the songs are diverse, but not so much that any track feels out of place. "Crestfallen" calls to mind Rebellion-era The Riot Before and "The Ballad" is Devo-esque, but both songs are still very much Two Hand Fools.
"I've Felt Love" is the probably the most accessible track on the album, but it highlights one of the album's few flaws, especially compared with the original version from a split they released last year. New bassist Sean Clark is talented, but the band lack the vocal dynamics that were present with Molly Lape. Ryan Johns has a distinct vocal delivery and it works well with their music, but the vocal harmonies she provided and the songs she sang provided a great diversity. A little of the folky element that had defined their sound was also lost, but that could easily be attributed to Ryan Johns' development as a songwriter.
While we get a few "typical" Fools songs (the aforementioned "I Felt Love," "Love" and "Possessions"), Johns and company go places that were obviously out of their comfort zone and it tends to pay big dividends. The biggest payout is the "Anger" duology. "Anger Don't Wait Up For Me" might be my favorite song I've heard this year. It really focuses the album on the potent anger throughout, but also on how damaging that anger can be. There was obviously a lot of angst around Johns' parents divorce on their last album, but going through that fire has lead to a reborn and much more mature artist. When the gang vocals kick in, it it's goosebump-inducing and easily one of the strongest moments on this album.
It bears noting how prominent drummer Adam Paduch and guitarist Tyler Sickles are on this album. The fact that these guys have been playing and writing together for years is obvious. There are flourishes and touches that can only come from time spent harnessing your craft together. You can feel every note is deliberate and works to make the whole better.
There has been a strong swell of bands harking back to the '90s, if not an outright aping of the '90s radio rock scene. Very little of this would fall into any alt-rock category. This is an album that would have hung with some of the college rock big boys in the '80s. It isn't quite on the level of the classics, but I can picture it being a mainstay in 1987. This is very much a modern punk rock record, but with so many bands striving to capture that "'90s sound," it is refreshing to hear a band that truly is alternative rock.
I struggled with what score to give this album, I don't have the emotional attachment to any of the songs that some of their earlier works had, but objectively I realize this is the best work they have created. And, were I to pick an album to start someone with, it would be their self-titled. As Clark gains more band mileage, I think we'll be treated to a timeless album. While it will be one I keep in constant rotation, and likely be one of my favorites of the year, I think we're still in store for more and better from this band.