There’s a lot of cause to be concerned about this album. Even if you’re not a fan, it’s hard to deny that Papa Roach have managed to ride the train of modern rock relevance pretty unfailingly, landing on their feet following the bust of nu-metal but moving to more straightforward hard rock, and even adopting a timely reimagining of their sound upon the advent of emphasised production and electronics. But for a band who, up to now, have defied every expectation by not only surviving their rightful death but have actively thrived, Who Do You Trust? has given every impression of being the straw to break the camel’s back, where modern rock trends have become even too much for Papa Roach to bear. Up to now their singles have been – to avoid mincing words – among the worst they’ve ever released, and with a focus on production that goes beyond some electronic spice on a hard rock meal that would still be filling on its own and right into lumpy Imagine Dragons aping, there’s every chance that Who Do You Trust? could be up their with their least-appealing material to date.
But really, the discussion runs deeper than that, and Who Do You Trust? serves as the latest entry in a problematic trend within Papa Roach’s material. 2015’s F.E.A.R did the same thing, serving as a quick follow-up to a much better album that stripped so much of the snarl and the oomph from its predecessor’s formula to leave an underweight, underdeveloped husk. With Who Do You Trust?, though, it goes even further again; this is essentially the opposite of everything that Crooked Teeth was, drained of so much punch, momentum and even simply the core essence of a rock album, and landing as the flaccid coda to an album that actually felt worthwhile paying attention to.
It’s not hard to see how they’ve ended up like this either; their own creative process (or lack thereof) can only take so much of the blame, particularly when the Imagine Dragons-shaped nebulousness of ‘modern rock’ is looming overhead, meaning that detail and definition has largely been cast aside for formless, flavourless masses that prioritises marketability above real creative drive. You only need to look at the writing to see this in full effect, and while Papa Roach have never been known to traffic in anything approaching great depth, boring, open-ended self-esteem anthems like Not The Only One and Come Around feel like a low bar even for them. Sure, positivity can be a workable notion, especially in a brand of rock that places populist appeal in such high regard as this, but the attempts on Who Do You Trust? are unavoidably flabby with the coddled, safe aura of first drafts, not the final product for a band on their tenth album. It doesn’t help when Jacoby Shaddix sounds like he can’t even pretend to deliver them in a manner that doesn’t implicate how rushed this album was, and between the disconcertingly paranoid notions of The Ending and the half-paced, half-hearted meanderings of Elevate and Problems, a vocalist who was once a well of charisma and firepower just comes as pitiable above all else.
Even more exasperatingly, it’s the same issue that almost all of these tracks have instrumentally. Any hopes of the sleek, punchy hard rock of Crooked Teeth making a return are quickly dashed, instead conforming to the standards of the ‘modern rock’ holding pen, namely operating on the basis that blocky, genre-free clunkers are a better option (which, for the record, is demonstrably untrue). Thus, Who Do You Trust? is by far the least focused a Papa Roach album has ever been, flitting from sound to sound in a borderline senseless fashion, to the point where on tracks like Not The Only One, they feel pieced together from totally disparate leftovers as a time-saving measure. It doesn’t form the best impression when the most notable cut is the lazy, lumpen Imagine Dragons castoff Elevate, but put alongside the late-period Bon Jovi aping of Feel Like Home or the rampaging hardcore of I Suffer Well, it’s hard to believe that Papa Roach even had any discernible direction mapped out when making this album. To be fair, those two tracks aren’t necessarily bad (they’re probably the best on here and, in the larger context, that says a lot), but even reducing things down to tracks indicative of a rock band, Papa Roach basically fall at the first hurdle. The sludgy, low-tempo slurry of The Ending is about as lazy as rock-by-committee gets, and while Renegade Music is slightly better as a more upbeat, aggressive approximation of that sound, it’s simply not up to standard. From a basic production standpoint, it sounds awful, and when that most basic of elements flip-flops around on an as-and-when basis depending on what unsuccessful experiment is being implemented at what time, the whole thing lacks any sort of body or structure and falls flat on its face effectively on the word “go”.
In short, this feels like the sort of album that a far lesser band than Papa Roach would make, or at least one who’ve not been so adept at riding trends as they have. It’d be tempting to call it a style-over-substance move, but when there’s so little of either, it’s hard to know what to do with it besides begrudge its entire existence. And that shouldn’t be a sentence directed at Papa Roach; they’ve never been critical darlings, sure, but in the past they could deliver a halfway-decent track with enough broad power to enjoy. With Who Do You Trust? though, it’s tolerable at its very best, and even that’s not that often. The very least they can do is take more time on future albums; that way, they’re less likely to run the risk of it being their worst to date.
For fans of: Nickelback, Imagine Dragons, P.O.D
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Who Do You Trust?’ by Papa Roach is out now on Eleven Seven Records.