Confidence in an unappreciated feature in music. To see a band go all in to break out of their comfort zone or embrace sounds or styles that might be traditionally out of their wheelhouse is always worthy of at least some praise, even if it doesn’t always go right, and it typically leads the rough workings of something that can hewn and smoothened to a greater extent later on. On the flipside though, confidence can also occupy a more cynical and calculated headspace for some, namely the confidence that a band can do as little as possible to make themselves sound new or interesting, and they’ll still be showered in praise by those ultimately profiting from keeping the hype machine chugging along. And if there’s one band that embody that mindset more than any other, it’d be Sleeping With Sirens, but ONE OK ROCK come a close second in terms of game-playing pop-rock cynicism. Granted, this isn’t entirely new for them – of the more notable members of the J-rock crowd, they’ve always been drawn to western styles and trends more than any other – but their rather late thrusting into the conversation of mainstream money-printers has only seen them freefall more profoundly than ever before, swapping out polished post-hardcore for weightless, vacuum-sealed alt-pop like so many of their Warped Tour contemporaries, and somehow reaping the benefits in the same vein.
Clearly that’s been the catalytic factor in allowing their confidence for playing the system to blossom, and knowing they can be as uninteresting and uninspired as they want and still see profit is emblematic of everything wrong with the music industry today. And so, because creativity or morals are too much to ask for, we have Eye Of The Storm, the album which drags the already spluttering, floundering castaway that is alt-pop to one of its lowest depths yet. If this was simply a bad album, that would be nothing particularly noteworthy – at this point, a bad alt-pop album is pretty much par for the course in a sub-genre that still doesn’t have a clue of what it wants to do half the time – but Eye Of The Storm is a special kind of terrible, where nothing feels even remotely connected to artistic drive or impetus at all, and instead is the product of a band cynically congealing every overdone cliché and unit-shifting bore into one hideous, unsightly mass of flavourless nothing.
And if that sounds hyperbolic at all, it only takes a brief skim of what ONE OK ROCK are trying to say on this thing to dispel any such notions for good. Clearly the aim was to have this album double up as an almanac of every meaninglessly pandering lyrical trope imaginable into one handy package considering they’re all here, largely in their original forms to show just how uncreative this band truly are; hell, when the opening title track features some kind of overused, platitudinous adage in almost every single line, there’s hardly going to be any sort of hope stoked for this being an interesting or thought-provoking listen. And it’s not like there’s anything intrinsically wrong with drawing on themes of being an outcast or standing up for what you believe in, but these feel more like the product of a neural network than an actual band trying to actually say something. Stand Out Fit In is perhaps the most trite ode to being yourself ever put on wax; Grow Old Die Young and Wasted Nights are virtually the same song in the ‘let’s make tonight count’ vein (with the latter almost using that phrase verbatim, if you can believe it); and Letting Go and In The Stars being the mawkish, soaking wet ballads that are to be expected from this album. Even those descriptions are downplaying just how little there is to work with here, with any creativity at an all time low that would be laughed out of the scene by any number of emo bands over a decade ago when such clichés were still viable. At least it draws attention away from how embarrassing some of the lines can be, chief among them being Grow Old Die Young’s notion of “I want the cause of my death / To be amazing sex”, a line that would still be utterly horrendous if a vocalist with any sort of charisma delivered it, let along Taka Moriuchi who could be replaced by a cardboard cutout most of the time and it wouldn’t make a damn bit of difference.
And that points to Eye Of The Storm’s next key issue – the fact that songs this laughably basic could maybe salvage some sort of appeal if they were delivered with power or passion, which is something that ONE OK ROCK are in desperate need of. There’s no anthemic swell or bombast whatsoever, as for almost every song, empty mixes are dished out with the hope that clattering, monochrome percussion and millennial whoops can fill in the gaps, which really only highlights how overwhelmingly dull this album is. The likes of Push Back or Change would unquestionably benefit from a more pronounced sense of scale on the hook to tie everything together, but instead, it’s just the flat non-efforts of the cracking, fragmented beats continuing on in a way that’s never not monotonous. Purely from a sonic standpoint, Eye Of The Storm just sounds awful, with guitars being occasionally noticeable but crushed to the back of the mix in the least subtle way possible on a track like Worst In Me, or totally lacking a low end on a shocking number of songs in a way that legitimately makes them sound unfinished. Even with how clean and sickeningly clandestine the production is, there’s no way that this album is in a fit state to be released; it’s so evidently missing key components that wouldn’t make much of a difference if they were here, but would at least sound marginally fuller. And then there’s Moriuchi himself, and after every other pitfall that ONE OK ROCK have dived headfirst into, a meek, personality-bereft frontman is probably the least of their problems, but his presence (or lack thereof) only ties together the notion that ONE OK ROCK may just be the most incompetent band on a major label on the planet.
And it’s easy to go on further – perhaps a track-by-track breakdown would’ve been more suitable to get to the minutiae of where this album fails in more detail – but given that there’s next to no effort put into this album, reciprocating that seems like the best course of action. And that’s a level of non-effort that can be felt over virtually every second of Eye Of The Storm; there hasn’t been an album released that’s been this cold, stiff or creatively moribund in a long time, and if all is good in the world, there won’t be another one for an equally long time. And yet, given how much of a high priority ONE OK ROCK are within the scene, what should rightfully be the nail in the coffin for an utterly worthless band will inevitably see them hit new heights and accolades that they couldn’t be further from deserving. But such is the unfortunate way of the world – it’s not what you know, but who you know, and ONE OK ROCK are the walking embodiment of why that’s a system that needs to die a slow, painful death.
For fans of: Sleeping With Sirens, All Time Low, Against The Current
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Eye Of The Storm’ by ONE OK ROCK is out now on Fueled By Ramen.