For as much of an unfortunate fact as it is that so many rock bands will simply abandon the genre altogether to chase pop trends in a vain attempt for larger-scale relevance – you know the drill by now – it doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing. The trail of seppuku that’s followed so many of them might give the opposite impression, but if a band genuinely knows what they’re doing and has a concrete idea of where their sound is going (something that shockingly few of them do), then there’s no reason why the end result shouldn’t be good. Perhaps the most perfect example of that is Emarosa, who’ve gradually abandoned the zeitgeist-y scenecore of the late-2000s for a far smoother, no-frills approach to pop-rock. It makes sense in the long run (if your band was once fronted by Jonny Craig, you’d want to jettison all evidence of that era too), but regardless of any motives, they’ve got such a firm grasp on an excellent pop hook, arguably more so than any other band heading down this route, and that’s really been reflected in just how positive the overall response to such a change has been. In an alternative scene that so frequently views any sort of change as a heinous betrayal of ‘true’ fans, to see the response spurred by Emarosa’s progression is, without question, a good thing.
But even so, Peach Club feels like an album with some real potential to divide opinion. Previous album 131 might have shown more accessible leanings, but it was ultimately still a rock album; this one fully crosses over into glossy, big-budget pop, the sort that’s been attempted a lot yet has crashed and burned far more than it should. Putting that into perspective, it paints Peach Club in a much more critical light, and while it’s far from being a travesty, anyone alluded by lead single Givin’ Up might find themselves especially perplexed at a lack of synergy that doesn’t really benefit anything.
Granted, you could make the argument that that’s not really necessary for success; with the sort of pop that Emarosa are clearly looking to latch onto, thematic cohesion takes a heavy backseat to huge anthems that are easy to gravitate towards. And that’s something that Peach Club does have, but it’s telling that they really only connect to a truly great extent at very specific moments. That tends to be when Emarosa choose to sidle over to the ‘80s-inspired neon lights that coat the slick funk-pop and saxophone trills of Givin’ Up or the watery new wave strut of So Bad that really see a band cutting loose and having fun playing around with these new sounds. But that’s not always the case, and as the pick-and-choose approach to pop songcraft gets deeper, Emarosa find themselves losing touch with what really works. It’s a big reason why the production tends to bottom out, relying on cavernous walls of synth to fill space on tracks like Hell Of It without giving them any colour or spark, and mixing the drums far too loudly as misty crashes to drown out everything else like on Help You Out. It can feel remarkably empty a lot of the time, relegating flair and tightness to accompaniments at best, and taking the greatest inspiration from the ponderous, percussive pop that really only fizzles out on impact. For as barebones as the lone guitar on xo is, it at least leaves an impression for being something different here; the blurry, oversized husk that is so much of Peach Club unfortunately can’t even do that.
And yet, if Bradley Walden wasn’t the one at the front of it all, this would undoubtedly be far more negative on the whole than it is. It’s already been established numerous times that he’s a stupendous vocal talent, bring range, richness and emotion to the table without even breaking a sweat, but he may be what singlehandedly elevates Peach Club into passable territory purely through the gusto and overflowing levels of personality that he brings. The effortless charisma brought to Givin’ Up and So Bad is virtually faultless, but even under less-favourable circumstances, like the percussion-driven self-esteem anthem of Get Back Up or the melancholy pop-rock closer Wait, Stay, there’s a believability injected into these songs that saves them from fluffed-up pablum and makes them something more genuine and human. These aren’t particularly detailled or personality-driven songs in the writing either – typically resting on a pop framework driven by big emotions rather that the nuance within them – but there’s something about how they’re performed by Walden that gives them that touch that really works for them. He’s a bona fide pop star, and to see what he brings to the table with these songs could potentially open so, so many doors for him going forward.
For Emarosa as a band though, it’s difficult to say whether they’re due the same fate. At the minute, Walden’s presence is what’s keeping them afloat, and while that doesn’t say a lot about Peach Club beyond the vocals, the truth is, there isn’t much there. As a first foray into pop, it has moments that can easily stand on their own, but falling into pitfall after pitfall as far as unwieldy production styles go does them no favours, and that leads to an album that’s certainly listenable but offers very little reason to revisit it beyond the choice cuts. At least the vocals do take some of the edge off, but Emarosa can only ride off that for so far; eventually, they’ll have to bring something more to the table besides that, and right now, it’s difficult to see what that could possibly be.
For fans of: Set It Off, Bruno Mars, Charlie Puth
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Peach Club’ by Emarosa is released on 8th February on Hopeless Records.