What a coincidence this is – in a year where Hollywood Undead have reached the greatest level of prominence that they have in some time, their former mainman is also back to capitalise on that success once again. It’s not totally unfair to say that Deuce became the de facto face of the band back when Swan Songs was released, but so far, his sporadic solo career feels as though it’s been buoyed almost entirely by those past successes; in the context of 2012 rap-rock, Nine Lives may have done something, but to suggest that that was down to name recognition over the actual music wouldn’t be missing the mark by that much.
But even if the moments of quality on Hollywood Undead’s Five might’ve been isolated at best, they were at least there. With Invincible, it’s hard to think of an album in 2017 that flounders so profusely and achieves so little as this. Effort and inspiration feels minimal, Deuce as an artist leaves a lot to be desired, and the fact that there’s maybe one solitary idea stretched over fourteen tracks (two at a push) makes Invincible a painfully laborious and unfulfilling listen that wears everything it has to offer on the very surface and still can’t fashion it all into anything even remotely enjoyable.
And while a key part of that comes down to some truly baffling views of himself as an artist that anyone with a functioning pair of ears will instantly be able to prove as an utter farce, Deuce may be the artist to offer the least of any kind of musical substance in some time. Prepare to be disappointed if you’re going into this album with the hope of any kind of variety, because a significant portion of Invincible‘s fourteen tracks hinge on flattened, greasy nu-metal riffs imported directly from 2003 without any kind of update and drums that have little to say even when they aren’t crushed over electronic production with the subtlety of a sledgehammer to the face. There’s really so little to say about this aspect, mostly because it doesn’t offer much to talk about; the lack of texture of any kind on Gone Tomorrow Here Today and the title track creates an unctuous film over the top that’s actually uncomfortable to listen to (probably best for Bitch This Is It to swamp itself out in dated electronic beeps, then), while Best Of Me represents the worst coalition of any such influences, with guitar work so flat and lifeless that it might as well be catatonic and a thicker beat reduced to a crushed buzz, all pushed right to the front of the mix with no layering whatsoever. Occasionally there might be a glimpse of something potentially workable, like the Zebrahead-style rapcore of Catch Me If You Can, but this is an exception among what is a largely barren musical landscape.
Sadly there’s even less praise to be awarded to Deuce himself, given how his entire performance appears to be phoned in across the board. For a start, his flows are almost universally basic, having the level of wordplay and dexterity of an average nursery rhyme before they’re stilted even further on tracks like My Buddy and Bad Attitude to feel even more patchwork and less involved. Even worse is when he tries to sing, and while that’s a problem that afflicts numerous rappers, Deuce seems to deliberately avoid outsourcing any choruses to show how tone deaf he can really come across, especially when he decides to belt on Talking About You or the “confessional” symphonic ballad Thank You that may cross into a new realm of incompetence for an album with as much budget as this clearly has.
To give Deuce some credit, the one thing Invincible proves he’s actually good is puffing his chest out even if he can’t reasonably back it up or sound convincing doing so. He claims he’s a better rapper than both Eminem and Machine Gun Kelly on Hell’s Gonna Break Loose which, given the evidence on display on this very album, is demonstrably untrue in both cases, and, on Talking About You, takes named shots at Kerrang! for covering “pussy emo fucking pop projects” over him, which is exactly the sort of petty jab you’d expect from a rapper transitioning to full-on hip-hop bruiser from nu-metal frontman. Even more indicative is how edgy and transgressive Deuce is clearly trying to paint himself as, throwing out the word “faggot” as an insult numerous times, and highlighting how “We’re blowing up like the World Trade Center” in a naked ploy to get people talking. It’s all so transparent and calculated, particularly when taking into account how his primary audience of white, suburban children going through their edgelord phase are oh-so likely to snap this all up.
And fair play to Deuce for knowing his audience, but the artistic path that takes him on is one that’s totally insufferable for everyone else. At least Hollywood Undead had variety and some good choruses on their last album; Deuce may be tailoring his sound for angsty kids to bully each other to, but that’s not exactly a demographic that wanted to be explored. Even if it did, more effort could’ve gone into Invincible than this, an awfully written, awfully performed waste of disc space that falls totally flat in almost every conceivable regard. For all the grandstanding that Deuce does, it’s not nearly enough to hide the fact that the fundamentals of being a musician just aren’t there, never mind one with something worthwhile to say or an interesting way of saying it.
For fans of: Hollywood Undead, Limp Bizkit, Kid Rock
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Invincible’ by Deuce is released on 1st December on Better Noise Records.