By I Hate Kate
Contrary to its gothic title, album-opener 'Bed of Black Roses' is a giddy blend of breakneck punk riffs and fizzy electro beats that sets the tone for I Hate Kate's début album 'Embrace The Curse.'
Frontman Justin Mauriello, former vocalist of Zebrahead, has the perfect voice for this brand of helter-skelter pop-punk, his strident-edged vocals cutting clearly over even 'Bed of Black Roses' raucous punk chorus.
'Bed of Black Roses' is such a headrush, you might find it difficult to move onto track number two, but when you do, 'It's Always Better' boasts an equally razor-sharp, pop infused chorus that's guaranteed to slap a smile onto even the sourest of faces.
This song - and, indeed the majority of the album - takes all the youthful energy and infectiousness of the pop-punk genre and dresses it up in grown-up punk riffs. The result is a frothy but hard-rocking hybrid you won't abandon the moment the next Myspace hopeful comes along, as is increasingly the case with this genre.
The verses of 'It's Always Better' may see I Hate Kate stripped of some of their exhilarating riffs, but the chorus is such a shot of aural adrenaline that you'll forgive I Hate Kate for not rocking out at one hundred miles an hour for the whole of the song.
However, this album doesn't quite deliver twelve tracks of pop-punk perfection. 'Then You Kiss' is one of several slightly weaker offerings, with musically stripped-down verses that highlight Mauriello's irritating spoken-word vocals, and his disastrous attempts at falsetto. Combined with lyrics that occasionally err on the side of cheese, 'Then You Kiss' becomes one the few tracks you won't find yourself singing along to halfway through the very first listen.
The chorus provides the shot of sunshine we've come to expect from I Hate Kate, and the trippy, synth-led bridge and end sections are intoxicating. However, we've already seen I Hate Kate deliver these sort of exhilarating choruses, complete with equally exhilarating verses. 'Then You Kiss' doesn't quite match up to the standards I Hate Kate have set themselves.
'Embrace The Curse,' 'The Thrill' and 'Outta My Head' suffer a similar fate, adhering to the formula that made 'Bed of Black Roses' such a headrush, but lacking that essential extra something. Ultimately, they're overshadowed by this album's harder-partying moments. It's frustrating, as these tracks are all accomplished, lively punk numbers. The problem is, we know I Hate Kate can do this sort of thing much better.
'Inside Inside' sees I Hate Kate eschewing some of their chirpiness in favour of darker riffs, atmospheric synths, and vaguely demonic chanting. While it would have been interesting to see I Hate Kate take this quasi black-hearted vibe all the way, 'Inside Inside' does a decent job of showing a slightly less sunny side to the band. It may not be as immediately likeable as their more upbeat efforts, but 'Inside Inside' is the flip-side this album needs to keep it from repeating itself. Of course, this being I Hate Kate, their dark(ish) side comes complete with a chorus of big, shiny hooks you won't be able to get out of your head.
We see another facet of I Hate Kate with the drum-led indie of 'I'm In Love With a Sociopath.' Packed with prominent drums, hand-clapping sound effects and jangling chords - and, of course, a chorus of smooth pop hooks - you really will need a crowbar to remove this song from your frontal lobe.
'It's You' is the album's obligatory slow-burner. The pre-chorus drum-roll and Mauriello's sharp vocals ensure this song carries more emotional weight than its repetitive lyrics might otherwise allow. The verses are pretty much the same handful of lyrics recycled over and over, only with slightly different phrasing, giving this ballad an uncomfortably forced feel.
Mauriello's always-charismatic vocals and the chugging backing track may go a good way towards disguising the emptiness at the heart of this song, but you'll still wish I Hate Kate had delivered an extra track of electro-infused punk, rather than a ballad they clearly don't believe in.
'Love Association' sees them take another stab at producing a ballad, but with much greater success, thanks to waves of epic riffs that build to a soaring, cinematic-tinged climax. It may not offer anything new in terms of ballads but, after an album's worth of sunshine, it couldn't feel any more different. This is what 'It's You' should have sounded like.
'Major Tom (Coming Home)' is a glacial cool rock song of super-slick vocals ricocheting off spring-heeled drumbeats, and a chorus that sees I Hate Kate on top form. 'Major Tom (Coming Home)' is a funky slice of upbeat pop-punk, with kooky, space-mission lyrics that keep it distinct from the rest of the album.
Pop-punk is a massively overcrowded genre, with the scene getting in a flap over a new 'next big thing' seemingly every week. The majority of 'Embrace The Curse' manages to carve out its own niche by rocking harder, and sounding a fraction more grown-up than the competition. It only occasionally falls into the pop-punk-by-numbers territory currently being trod by a million other bands.
'Embrace The Curse' is good, easy fun, fleshed out with breakneck punk riffs that just might win over those who have come to view the genre as something strictly for the tweenies. For anyone who's lost faith in this genre, I Hate Kate might just be the ones to restore it. Pop-punk with an emphasis on the 'punk.'
Zebrahead is an American rock band from Orange County, California, United States.