Wow, I have never had a more negative first impression to an album in my life. Imagine what someone who loved Metallica in the ‘80s thought when they first heard Load, then mix that with what someone who loved Green Day in the ‘90s thought when they heard Uno, Dos, Tre and then mix that with a turd emoji and you’ll have something close to my initial reaction to this album.
I really, really liked Creeper. Their debut full-length album Eternity, In Your Arms was in my top 10 albums of the whole decade. I played them at my wedding. They were a real big deal to me.
So it gives me no pleasure at all to say that listening to the first album for the first time was the sonic equivalent of when you think you’re about to drink cola and its really tea, or you think you’re about to drink cold sprite but its lukewarm water. After listening to it for the first time, I honestly never wanted to hear it again.
A large part of that is due to a major stylistic shift. While the debut album and the three EPs which preceded it were infectious, catchy pop punk affairs with a little extra on the top (a lot extra in fact), the band have since stated that they got sick of writing fast songs and wanted to make a timeless artistic statement instead. Part of it was reportedly written from the inside of a psychiatric hospital.
I was hoping that just meant that there was more of the extra stuff mixed in with the pop punk. Not an abject eradication of the pop punk altogether. This album sounds like the band have never heard of The Alkaline Trio or AFI and instead grew up on a mixture of Britpop like Suede, Pulp & Oasis, as well as ‘cool’ artists like Lou Reed, Nick Cave and Leonard Coen, and then shoved that influence through a mid-2000s Indie Rock filter. I hear much more in common with The Crookes and Interpol than I do with My Chemical Romance or any of the bands Creeper were initially compared to. (Especially vocally, sometimes you’d almost wonder if they changed singers between albums).
Luckily, I actually really like The Crookes, and although I never wanted to hear this album again after my first unpleasant listening experience, a journalist that I trusted stated that the album is a grower and the first few listens are just dominated by processing the fact that this doesn’t sound like Creeper anymore. I have since persisted with the album, until I stopped just hearing a big flashing neon sign saying ‘not Creeper’ and actually managed to hear the music herein, in so doing unlocking some of its secrets which weren’t initially apparent while my brain was too busy processing change instead of just objectively listening.
In case you haven’t already guessed; the album is to say the least, rather eclectic. ‘Paradise’ sounds like when Arctic Monkeys fetishize the ‘60s (think ‘Baby I’m Yours’ mixed with ‘The Afternoon’s Hat’) and also somehow Green Day’s B-Side ‘Espionage’ which if you’ve not heard that, is a kind of surf rock meets spy-movie soundtrack experiment. I guess it reminds me a bit of the Last Shadow Puppets, although I normally try and erase that band from my memory. I have heard it described as driving around LA in 1969 with sunglasses on at night.
‘Poison Heart’ sounds like a mixture of mid-period Pearl Jam going acoustic with that God-awful ‘90s single ‘Perfect Day’ …remember that, the one with a guest appearance from Bono? ‘Thorns Of Love’ sounds a bit like Roy-Bloody-Orbison in the verses, but it has such a powerful chorus I could see my dad drunkenly singing it on St. Patrick’s day.
Single ‘Annabelle’ is just a straight up mid-tempo indie song, like when post-debut Fratellis do a sad song (except with a nice middle-eight that has the same spirit as the ‘hospital room at the midnight hour’ part of ‘Suzanne’ from the previous album …and remember, that’s spirt, not sound).
On one of their early EPs, the band sang ‘I loved you once for a couple of months, but you were too drunk to care’ over a pounding pop punk bass-line and rattling drums. This time they sing ‘I loved you for a little while, four years ago’ over skiffly drums and swelling violins.
Now; before you throw spoiled vegetables at me for being a philistine, I have always loved Creeper for being more diverse and eclectic. I applauded them for mixing a gothy Cradle Of Filth intro with an Alkaline Trio verse giving way to a Meatloaf level of bombast on the album opener of their last album. I loved their depressive contrast ballads like ‘Novena’ and ‘Misery’ on the EPs that showed the band were more than just one thing. I guess the reason I had such a negative reaction to this album, was that it was mixing stuff I didn’t like together. Now its more the The Beautiful South doing a David Bowie cover. Fine if you like that sort of thing, but its not exactly ‘Posion Pens’ now is it? Further listens however reveal that just because it is different, doesn’t mean its bad.
Along the way, I have also found connections between the old and new. For example single ‘Born Cold’ does have similarities to the end of ‘Down Below’ from the last album and ‘Napalm Girls’ is like a mash up of the eclectic parts to the middle and end sections of other Creeper songs that made them sound apart from the pack. The spoken word parts that pop up all throughout the album are reminiscent of the intro to aforementioned previous album opener ‘Black Rain.’
The only song I still can’t get behind is the dreary single ‘Cyanide’ which has an Amy Winehouse drum sound, Oasis ‘All Around The World’ hypnotic pace and an obnoxious piano hook that I really can’t stand. It sounds like somone doing a solo album in a genre that really doesn’t suit them.
To counteract that though, the album closer actually reduced me to tears with its biting lyrics and evocative vocals. The tasteful sparse piano and violin ballad is unarguably the best song on the album, and possibly one of the best songs they’ve ever written, ‘All My Friends’ is basically a straight up sequel to ‘I Choose To Live.’ On the last album they were ‘drinking in the park, in our 20s in our aging skin at dark’ but now ‘we’re 30 now, we should have thought this through.’ The song is a stone-cold kick in the gut. When they sang ‘each day I wake to the death of a dream that I won’t mourn, loss becomes routine’ it brought literal tears to my eye.
In summary; Listening to this album is one of those opinion roller coasters. I don’t think I’ve heard any song the same way twice. I’m sure I’ll have a different opinion on it in a week and yet another opinion in a month and a year. Will they manage to convince enough fans who want to hear ‘VCR’ and ‘Winona Forever’ that this is better? Only time will tell. I certainly don’t hate it anymore. If they wanted to make an artistic statement they’ve definitely managed to… I just wonder if I’m going to grow to love it in the same way I loved Eternity, In Your Arms or if this is the sound of a band disappearing up their own arse?