I can see it now. Review after review will inevitably dismiss the new Zebrahead album (yes, I still call 'em albums), MFZB, as another piece of emotionless garbage by yet another group of trend-hopping, cash hungry, fauxhawk/trucker's mesh hats wearing wannabees. The unfortunate thing about that, however, is that this band is truly amazing. Those who are quick to throw this one in the trash bin are definately depriving themselves of something really special.
Yeah, I know the scene is beginning to overexpose and homogenize a once vibrant and exciting genre of rock music, namely emocore/post-hardcore/pop punk, with countless clone bands like Story Of The Year and Hidden In Plain View and The Starting Line, but if we can for a minute, let's suspend those preconceived notions and take a look at this record.
Those of you who experienced the same sense of musical disarray that I did in the late '90s may remember zebrahead as the band with the cliche' hip hop styled verses, but incredibly bright and ridiculously insane catchy choruses. During a time when bands like the Goo Goo Dolls, Lit, Blink 182, Limp Bizkit and Korn all melded together into one giant, bland, pop musical experience (not taking anything away from those bands individually), Zebrahead showed signs of genius. Yes, they lacked a certain degree of individuality at that time, but they more than made up for it with their dynamic sense of harmony, musicianship and songwriting skills. These guys command their individual instruments and compose some of the most awe inspiring melodies in rock today.
Four years since their last full length release, they return with MFZB, 15 tracks of growth and creative maturity unmatched by most current 'major label' bands. By toning down the "hip hop" thing a bit without completely selling that aspect of their sound out, they've fashioned together 15 songs that come across with the same speed and intensity of the most pop "punk" punk bands out there these days AND the crisp choruses of classic bands like Boston and Def Leppard. Those of you who write music know just how difficult a combo like this can be to pull off successfully. Not only did Zebrahead do it here on this record, but they pulled it off in mindblowing fashion. It's hard to hold what they lack slightly in the originality department against a group that's just so damn talented.
Songs like 'Type A' would give NOFX a run for their money. The chorus to 'Into You' would leave Christopher Cross scratching his head in disbelief. LL Cool J would be jealous of their "flow."
This record also pulls off politically themed songs without alienating listeners who may not be all that concerned with the current mess created by the Bush administration. There are plenty of tracks on MFZB that deal with heartbreak and self reflection like 'The Set-Up' to match the politically charged (yet mild in content) messages of others like 'Rescue Me' and 'Strength,' a song that I personally think should be the liberal anthem of '04. Simply put, there is a little something here for all of us. It is the perfect capsulation of this moment in rock music history.
Unless you're a maniacal punk purist (unfortunately, most of you probably are) I'd suggest that you give it a shot. I promise you that you will not be disappointed. Don't be afraid of the whole hip hop thing. This time around the rap parts are much more rock than "gangsta"; much more Rage Against The Machine/Red Hot Chili Peppers than Limp Bizkit/Linkin Park. I think they've finally found their sound by melding all of these different influences together in one smoothly flowing package. Nothing on this album sounds forced. Every single moment of it sounds energetic and sincere. It's scary to imagine how much better these guys will get with each passing album.