There’s really no reason this should even exist. That’s not because the combination of blink-182’s Mark Hoppus and All Time Low’s Alex Gaskarth is some monumental pop-punk paradigm shift (even though it certainly will be to some), but because there’s no legitimate reason for these two to come together. All Time Low have been accused of ripping off blink-182 for years now, and given that the latest material from both men has been floating in some rather low ebbs, it’s hard to see what Simple Creatures can even offer beyond some form of validation and damage control. After all, the fact that both Drug and this EP’s title track were as ruthlessly, offensively mediocre as they were in their return to plumb the depths of limp, over-produced alt-pop, yet continued to get pushed thanks to the names attached to them, speaks volumes when formulating how low the bar is for Simple Creatures to succeed. At this point, it feels as though they only have to show up and not completely flounder in most people’s eyes, and even then, there’s no guarantee of them managing that considering the evidence already on the table.
But even after listening to Strange Love, it’s tough to decipher what Hoppus and Gaskarth hope to achieve with this project. They’re already enormously successful in their own rights, and with an EP that doesn’t look to take that status in any direction, positive or negative, the whole endeavour just appears profoundly pointless. In a climate where alt-pop is bigger than ever, names that hold as much weight as theirs do could be endlessly innovating a scene that’s already getting stale, instead of playing to plodding, formulaic tropes that, if their names weren’t attached to it, no one would care even in the slightest.
On the other hand, maybe it’s not fair to say that Simple Creatures aren’t trying anything; compared to the clean, tight and often stiff construction of alt-pop, rooting this EP in scuzzier, more openly dirty guitars feels like a move that they at least want to use to distinguish themselves. The problem is how slapdash and thrown-together it sounds, coated in oily films that sends Drug and the already dated rap-rock riffs of Lucy jerking along with such a lack of urgency. What’s even worse is that it’s the single element in the duo’s sound that goes this way; everything else is the usual saccharine, slicked-back fare that only makes the guitar work feel even less useful, and only highlights how much of a perfunctory feature it is. Otherwise, Strange Love plods through the same doldrums that are no less tired or drained, like the flaccid, listless plod of How To Live that’s exists solely under the pretensions that it sounds sweeping and anthemic (which it doesn’t), or the drained approximation of EDM on Ether whose merciless slowness never leaves any room for anything interesting. It certainly doesn’t help that neither Hoppus nor Gaskarth sound even remotely switched on, and besides the peppier pop-rock of Adrenaline which feels like a more natural clime for the pair, they’re running on autopilot through every track in a limp mid-range that’s not indicative of anything exciting or energetic. It feels like they themselves realise how pointless this project feels, and are just trying to get by as quickly and painlessly as possible.
Even in the writing that feels like the case, and even with a handful of clever lines that are slightly more reminiscent of the pair’s day jobs to avoid fully drowning in the alt-pop quagmire, operating on the most literal basis of the title possible and cycling through themes of relationship turbulence really does get old, particularly when it’s hardly a new theme to latch into anyway. Drug feels like the biggest hit, not only because its ‘love as drugs’ metaphor has been thoroughly murdered at this point but also that it’s the EP’s opening note, but the title track and especially Ether only serve as variations on that general theme, if only slightly less blatant in their linguistic choices. Even Lucy, which at least tries to shake things up as a Bonnie and Clyde-esque narrative, is dependent on tropes to get anywhere, and whether that even succeeds is up for debate.
It’s just one more reason to add to pile of why Strange Love feels like little more than a time-sink. There’s no strong or worthwhile emotion to get out of this, and while it’s not egregious enough to rant to the high heavens about, any project that ultimately calls the bare minimum in pop-rock songwriting their finished product, regardless of how famous its members are, is not worth paying attention to. And again, there’s no possible reason why Simple Creatures would even be given the time of day without the names attached; there’s just nothing here that could be called compelling or interesting, and an EP that’s content with doing little more than existing is hardly a success by any standard.
For fans of: All Time Low, blink-182, Waterparks
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Strange Love’ by Simple Creatures is out now on Everything Opposite Records.