It’s been almost six years since the Aquabats released an LP. SIX YEARS. Sure, they've been busy with their award-winning Nick Jr. television show, Yo Gabba Gabba!, producing The Aquabats Super Show! and touring the world several times over, but what kind of an excuse is that? Buncha slackers if you ask me.
In a December 2010 interview with the OC Weekly, MC Bat Commander Christian Jacobs said Hi-Five Soup! would be “definitely a departure... I guess what we came up with is more Yo Gabba Gabba!-meets-the-Aquabats.” Expounding in AMP Magazine, he claimed, “I think this new record has more stuff like that on it, silly kid stuff, which is fun. It’s less trying to appeal to a little bit older crowd and just trying to appeal to the Halloween costume crowd.” Given that the Aquabats have never exactly been pandering to the inner grown-up in all of us, that should tell you how kid-friendly this album is. It’s got a gang chorus of what sounds like children and/or Brobee’s posse along with a verse of Auto-Tune (“B.F.F.!”), a hugs-not-thugs anthem (“Hey Homies!”) and an appearance by 2003 internet sensation Strong Bad of Homestar Runner fame (“Pink Pants!”).
But there’s still enough of the Aquabats’ exciting musical arrangements mixed with a newfound obsession with electronica alongside their zany cartoonish storytelling to make the album enjoyable for listeners of any age. Following in the same style of synthed-out pop-punk as 2005’s Charge!!!, songs like “Poppin’ a Wheelie!”, “Just Can’t Lose!” and the album’s opener “Shark Fighter!” buzz and whir like Devo on a sugar high.
The Yo Gabba Gabba! influence is audibly apparent on those tracks like “Radio Down!” (which features legendary rapper and YGG! star Biz Markie) and “Hey Homies!”, whose robotic electronic rhythms beep to the beat under a plethora of auxiliary vocals.
The best songs of the album are those that vaguely revisit the band’s early years as a staple ska act like “In My Dreams!” and the epic closer “Luck Dragon Lady!”, which enters with a head-bobbing rocksteady beat and morphs into an electro-rap halfway through before returning to the grandiose refrain for a formidable outro.
The only downsides to the ultra kid-friendly themes is that there isn't any (albeit light) social commentary like “Idiot Box” or “Fashion Zombies”, while songs like “B.F.F.!” and “Hey Homies!” genuinely do sound like they belong on a Nick Jr. children’s show. Jimmy the Robot doesn't pull out his saxophone once on the album (bummer), and there aren't really any cute relationship songs like “Red Sweater”, “Lovers of Loving Love” or “Hot Summer Nights”. The closest to anything like that on here is “In My Dreams!” with the line “We can be together if we only believe / But then you go away / But tonight I’m dreamin’ ‘bout you tonight.”
In the grand scheme of the Aquabats’ discography, Hi-Five Soup! will probably land somewhere in the middle on the perpetual scale of greatness. Behind The Fury of the Aquabats! but slightly better than ...vs. the Floating Eye of Death!, Hi-Five Soup is the right album for the midst of the Yo Gabba Gabba! craze. It's the best record Fearless has put out in ages, but will hopefully be the last that requires a supporting cast so the Aquabats can write their next album as the sovereign band of superheroes we've come to love.