Let's see: a rising punk rock band gaining fans on a global scale releases their highly-anticipated followup on a major label, and the record ends up being a surprisingly shiny work of pop that abandons roughly every trait of its earlier sound?
Why do I suddenly have this head-pounding case of déja vu...?
The Explosion takes a decidedly poppy route with Black Tape, its Virgin debut. All but gone are the '77 nods and Oi! influences, traded in favor of a more restrained but somehow declaratory sort of-punk-pop feel, not only happier but matured in the way only major label record executives can mandate with stern looks and crossed arms. The Explosion's newest messages are painted with the most accessible strokes yet, whether it be the overdubbed chorus of "Mothers Cry" or pogo-friendly single "Here I Am," both showcasing Matt Hock's newest vocal delivery, which is a little less harsh than the Sick Of Modern Art EP. The remaining grains of sand lodged on his throat have nearly been sifted out.
It's hit or miss with the overwhelming amounts of gloss injected into the production. The more effective tracks like "Filthy Insane," a punked-out romp with jagged yells for a chorus, an adventurous pace and mere glimpses of the street punk the band once prided themselves on, or the album's comparatively darker track, "Atrocity," in Hock's simple confession, "I won't fight in any wars, and I can't stand to see much more / atrocity...," are unaffected by the collagen-like puff. But then there's tracks like "Go Blank" or the re-recorded "No Revolution" that proves restraining orders are in order for Pro Tools and his gang of song-ruining studio "magic" with multi-tracked vocal barks and glistening guitar effects usually reserved for tampon infomercials and pre-climactic Herbal Essence moments.
While containing a few enjoyable tracks, Black Tape is a sound that simply seems drained of much of the band's previous seemingly endless energy. It does sound like the next logical step for the band, but it could've been taken with alterations. No longer the homeless, stringy-haired beast roaming pothole-patched roads and lonely, dark alleyways, The Explosion seems less volatile and more benevolent, defanged of its raucous nature and domesticated for whatever family is ready to raise it.