By Fake Problems
'It's Great To Be Alive,' the third album from Florida's Fake Problems, is so sublimely happy, that it'll leave you agreeing with the album title wholeheartedly.
Starting as they mean to go on, Fake Problems open with the aural Prozac of '1234.' Built on a rumbling drumbeat and nervy, fluttery chords, Fake Problems then layer on a full, ska-punk brass band, chiming synths and sugary lyrics in a song that'll leave you smiling, without force-feeding you any pop-punk chirpiness.
'The Dream Team' ploughs a similar furrow to '1234,' offering up cheerful pop-punk that avoids any aggressively happy hooks. Instead, it delivers a snappy, big-hearted, hand-clap-studded chorus, drenched in sunny melodies and topped off with edgy, squealing riffs that prevent 'The Dream Team' from sound sanitised.
Elsewhere, the rumbling, drum-led verses sweep into a multi-part bridge section of dizzying riffs, and leap headfirst into a silly, but undeniably fun, hand-clapping-fest. When Fake Problems wrap things up with a mass sing along, it's no surprise: 'The Dream Team' is just that kind of song. It's good fun but, more importantly, it manages to tread a path slightly different from what you were expecting, and that's what keeps this song and, indeed, this album, fresh and exciting.
Fake Problems do a complete u-turn with 'You're A Serpent, You're A She-Snake.' The intriguing, story telling lyrics are supported by downbeat organ, buzzy, chugging riffs and rumbling drumbeats. It's a surprisingly sinister combination.
'You're A Serpent...' counteracts this lurking darkness with pulsing, jerky guitars and bursts of looped electro. 'You're A Serpent...' does have a twitchy, danceable groove, but also a darker underbelly that's completely unexpected.
And things only get more surprising, as 'You're A Serpent...' erupts into a cinematic musical landscape of wailing brass and atmospheric backing vocals.
'You're A Serpent...' is a brilliant, thought-provoking musical and lyrical deviation from Fake Problems' usual exuberance.
Fake Problems come over all ska for the impossibly catchy 'Don't Worry Baby.' The chorus is pure genius, as Farren slides up and down the vocal scale in a manner that's so maddeningly catchy, you'll wonder why everyone isn't doing it. One spin of this chorus, and you'll be hooked.
The verses are almost as good, bursting with that hard-partying, ska-punk energy. And as if that wasn't enough, 'Don't Worry Baby' has a brilliantly unusual, shivering central chord that puts a final, razor-sharp hook on this track.
True, nit-pickers could point out that the "lalalalala" group sing along at the end is a little cheesy, and the clunky little country ditty tacked onto the end serves absolutely no purpose whatsoever, but 'Don't Worry Baby' has more hooks than any one song should have. Expect to have this one stuck in your head for days.
The good times continue with 'The Heaven & Hell Cotillion.' From the opening line of "I'm going to heaven and you're going to hell," this song has its tongue planted firmly in its cheek. And, just in case we were in danger of taking this song too seriously, Fake Problems treat us to a bit of banjo-picking that starts off at an acceptable speed, and then revs up into a laugh-out-loud, country-music-on-speed chorus and some very silly gang vocals. Putting this song next to 'Don't Worry Baby' was a stroke of genius, as the pair deliver a double-header of pure, unashamed fun, before its back to more straight-faced territory for 'Level With The Devil.'
Here, the strength of Fake Problems' song writing skills really becomes apparent. Not only do they eschew the songs-about-girls template favoured by so many bands who are just after a catchy chorus, but Fake Problems turn out plenty of neat phrases and unusual rhymes, while always expressing something meaningful. They also instil their lyrics with a healthy dose of humour, with frontman Chris Farren declaring "so let's sugarcoat every last word / instead of lyrics from now on I'll just hum every verse," before doing just that.
'Level With The Devil' is a jaunty, cheerful number with thought-provoking, distinctive lyrics that ensures it sticks out on an album of consistently strong material.
Fake Problems inject their standard sound with a shot of self-conscious indie cool for the bone-popping 'Diamond Rings.' As raw-edged riffs saw back and forth across stylishly plodding drumbeats, and Farren bounces his vocals off semi-falsetto, cartoonish backing vocals, it's all very slick and groovy, but also surprisingly devoid of hooks. 'Diamond Rings' is one of those frustrating songs where all the component parts measure up but, as a whole, it fails to ignite.
'Tabernacle Song' doesn't offer up anything earth-shattering in terms of music. It ploughs a pretty-but-unassuming musical furrow of rattling acoustic guitar, twinkling synths and carefully dolled-out drumbeats. However, give this song time and the lyrics work a sort of magic. Fake Problems have a talent for pitching their lyrics just right, so this song's overriding message of just being happy with what you've got, doesn't sound in the least bit smug. It's actually oddly reassuring.
As a whole package, 'Tabernacle Song' is a beautifully understated, soothing ballad of heartfelt lyrics that'll leave you feeling as contented as the lyricist claims to be.
'Alligator Assassinator' is a riotous blast of ska-punk that's guaranteed to leave you with itchy dancing feet. Absolutely jam-packed with bluesy vocals, mentallist jazz and body-rocking beats, 'Alligator Assassinator' is one of those songs that was designed simply to get people moving. Even when Fake Problems indulge in a finger-clicking bridge section, 'Alligator Assassinator' is such good fun, that this feels like a charming final flourish, rather than the cheese-fest it is.
'There Are Times' catches Fake Problems in a more experimental mood. As this song switches from an odd combo of listless drumbeats and organ; to a bout of hand-clapping, to a chorus of scratchy electric guitar, 'There Are Times' seems unsure of how it wants to sound. You'll consequently struggle to get a handle on this song as a whole. The transitions between these different sections are often jarring, with the chorus of synth-trimmed guitar suddenly giving way to an organ solo.
That said, things do fall into place towards the end, as the brass band is brought in to jazz things up but, on the whole, 'There Are Times' is eclipsed by the rest of this album.
Fake Problems go out in spectacular style with the uplifting indie-rock of 'Heart BPM.' Kicking off in decidedly low-key fashion, with tentative vocals, bone-popping percussion and scratchy guitars, 'Heart BPM' will have you on the edge of your seat, certain that a hard-hitting, emotional suckerpunch is imminent. And it is, as Fake Problems sweep the listener up in a dizzying, frantic riff, before really making a play for the heart strings with a mass sing along that's nothing short of epic. A soaring, buoyant piece of indie-rock that ends this album on a truly life-affirming high.
'It's Great To Be Alive' is that rarest of things: epic, anthemic indie-rock with big-hearted lyrics that ring true, rather than turn your stomach. Fake Problems excel at being just that little bit different from the crowd; their pop-punk exuberance is tempered by smart, story telling lyrics and a flair for the unexpected hook.
'It's Great To Be Alive' is infuriatingly catchy, thought-provoking, silly, and moving in equal measures. The most remarkable thing about this album though, is how sincere it all sounds.
There may be no song that has 'next big indie-rock smash' written all over it, but this is a great third album, and one that fans of anthemic indie-rock should definitely track down.