Against all odds, Papa Roach have wound up as modern rock survivors, and they’ve done so through remarkably simple means that very few others can seem to get right – evolving while keeping their core sound intact. The transition from nu-metal to hard rock between 2002’s Lovehatetragedy and 2004’s Getting Away With Murder reaped rewards in earnest, and the thick electronic influence that first materialised on 2012’s The Connection represented a band who were completely galvanised, in touch with both current styles and their own roots. Its follow-up F.E.A.R in 2015 might’ve been a bit iffy by comparison, but credit needs to go to the fact that Papa Roach have always stood their ground regardless.
If Crooked Teeth proves anything, it’s just how much of an uncharacteristic misstep its predecessor was, as this is Papa Roach back to firing on all cylinders. That mainly comes from the incorporation of elements from each of their incarnations up to this point – the massive hard rock hooks they’ve been dealing in for a long time haven’t budged, nor has the thicker electronic pulse that’s spread across the album. This time though, the ghost of their nu-metal roots has appeared through the heavier prevalence of rapping in Jacoby Shaddix’s delivery, alongside his ever-smooth, ever-charismatic singing. And as a way of bridging the gap between then and now, it really couldn’t work better. With the synthesised elements, it leads to a genre fusion approach that couldn’t feel more contemporary, as well as having the sort of firepower that this band thrive off.
That’s because, in terms of radio rock in its purest form, Papa Roach don’t miss a beat; the likes of My Medication and Traumatic remain solidly guitar-based and don’t let their electronic flourishes clutter the mix. That’s not always the case – some tracks here can feel a tad overproduced, like the choppy stomp and rattling trap beat of Born For Greatness, or the creaking tick of None Of The Above – but it’s impressive how Papa Roach manage to circumvent any truly dire results. The anthemic quality of Help and the title track can’t be ignored, with both just crying out to be mainstays on rock radio, while on the other side of the coin, the Skylar Grey team-up Periscope pulls off softer, electronically-driven balladry leagues better than a certain other band of former nu-metallers that comes to mind.
That sort of thing is usually enough to push any pretensions towards lyricism to the back burner, and while Crooked Teeth could safely sustain itself on hooks and hooks alone, it’s a credit to Papa Roach’s musical ethic that they’re still trying new things. Sure, the bulk of this album is very much business as usual – toxic and troubled relationships (My Medication and Periscope), battling inner demons (Break The Fall and Help) and the odd pump-up anthem that might as well be obligatory at this point (Born For Greatness) – but there’s a desire to explore new areas that the band can actually pull off. American Dreams may examine the crises of violence in the US in very broad parameters, but there’s enough intent behind it to really work. The best example is Sunrise Trailer Park, where Machine Gun Kelly plays a to-be father killed in a road accident, with Shaddix as the friend responsible, wracked with guilt after driving under the influence. It’s a song where the duet is imperative, and honestly, the two nail it, and it’s a genuinely effective, well-thought-out track.
That general sentiment can be applied to the vast majority of this album, and that shouldn’t be as much of a surprise as it is. Papa Roach have always been consistent – and consistently good at that – with any moments of flagging being off days at best. But even then, Crooked Teeth feels like another step up from a band who have every right to playing it safe these days, and yet continue to advance into new territory. It may be simple, but Crooked Teeth is as effective as this brand of radio-rock can be, modern and soaring with an undeniable populist streak. This is no throwback album; Papa Roach are still a very real force to be reckoned with.
For fans of: Linkin Park, Falling In Reverse, Starset
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Crooked Teeth’ by Papa Roach is out now on Eleven Seven Music.