Back in the mid-2000s, there was no way that Hollywood Undead weren’t going to make a splash. Here was a band clad in masks and trafficking in nu-metal riffs like Slipknot, but embodied both the debauched, neon-coated crunkcore and the melodramatic outcast-isms that permeated all across MySpace for a band that had a stranglehold on the zeitgeist of the time. Combine all of that into their genre-rattling debut Swan Songs, and Hollywood Undead formally established themselves as a band riding the crest of a wave, only to continue to replicate that formula to desperately diminishing results.
But even so, it’s not entirely out of the question to be a Hollywood Undead apologist; it’s at least easy to understand why they’re so popular even if that’s not a shared opinion, and even if for the last couple of releases that’s been fairly difficult. But with Five, this might just be the most difficult yet, as while it finds the quintet essentially in stasis, the shifting climate around them certainly hasn’t been kind to them, and for an album characterised by walls of thick production and whiplash-inducing tonal shifts, that’s not a good sign.
What’s more, Five continually plays these as features rather than flaws, particularly in the case of the three personas that the band adopt through the course of this album – the damaged souls looking to extol the issues both in themselves and the world around them, the thuggish bruisers looking for a fight, and the pissed-up frat boys looking to party and pick up girls. None of this is anything new here; there’s always been an artificiality around Hollywood Undead and the different personas they adopt (particularly when Johnny 3 Tears and Charlie Scene both continue to sound a lot like Eminem), but for the purposes of this album, the transitions feel so lumpen and clumsy, and more than a bit thematically jarring, especially when it goes from hyper-earnest pleas to “Sing like there’s nobody watching” on the titular track to how they’re still out murdering people just two songs later. The facade itself isn’t the problem, but when it’s barely blended at all like it is here, Five just comes across as bitty and lacking in any proper flow.
That’s not to say that these pieces can’t work individually, because pulling out single tracks is probably the best way to go to find Five at its best. California Dreaming takes to a more straightforward rap-metal template the best of whenever the band try to do it; both Bad Moon and Black Cadillac create the eerie atmosphere necessary to fully function as decent hip-hop tracks; and for as brainlessly sleazy as Riot can be, there’s an undeniable quality to it exactly the same as Everywhere I Go almost a decade ago. It definitely works better in pieces than as a whole, especially seeing as Five can dip into really iffy territory musically, like the watery, half-reggae acoustics of Ghost Beach, or just the majority of Danny’s choruses which feel cribbed from any number of C-list metalcore acts.
It’s also telling that most of the production on Five only ever works in pieces too, and even then, to say it really works is being as generous as it comes. At best, there’s the processed strings and horns on Whatever It Takes and Pray (Put ‘Em In The Dirt) for some extra scope and bombast, and maybe the chopped-and-screwed drop of Cashed Out that has some twisted personality. Other than that though, Five feels doused in sterile production that’s refused to evolve since the MySpace days, being generous enough to leave in some guitar snarl on California Dreaming and We Own The Night but fully flattening everything else. There’s no body to Broken Record or Nobody’s Watching, and so much of the synth work feels slathered over the top with so little tact. It shows how little Hollywood Undead have really progressed, relying on much of the same overworked production that would’ve scraped by back in the day, but feels horrendously dated nowadays.
But even then, Five isn’t a total waste. Like it or not, Hollywood Undead are still something of a unique prospect within modern rock, and even on this album, there’s enough for any apologists to get behind to solidify that notion. But there’s a line for how far that can go, and Hollywood Undead frequently test what really works and what doesn’t. It’s definitely worth a look, if only for a slice of nostalgia that’s guaranteed to not have changed since 2008, but beyond that, Five offers precious little that adds much to the conversation in the modern day.
For fans of: Eminem, From Ashes To New, Falling In Reverse
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Five’ by Hollywood Undead is released on 27th October on Dove & Grenade / BMG.