Well, 2020 just continues to surprise, doesn’t it? We’re barely even halfway through the year and there’s already been a global viral outbreak and the largest civil rights movement in history, and yet the fact that we’re somehow talking about Trapt takes a place as one of the more notable happenings among them. And it’s not like that’s on musical grounds – they were the sort of dreg-sucking 2000s nu-metal band that had, like, one-and-a-half songs that anyone actually remembers – but for the fact that their vocalist Chris Taylor Brown has been seemingly hellbent on destroying whatever meagre career they still have left, taking to Twitter with alarming verve to assert himself as a right-wing nutjob and spoiling for a fight with anyone who crosses his path. To be fair to him, it’s not like this isn’t on-brand for someone whose biggest hit was Headstrong, but it’s the sort of rampant tonedeafness that’s turned Trapt into even more of a laughing stock than they were already considered, to the point where their serendipitously-timed new album (because of all that effort definitely wasn’t a vain attempt to drum up attention, right?) is really only in the firing line as an easy target. Because, come on – this is Trapt, a band whose relevant musical output spans less than ten minutes, and who’ve systematically dismantled the possibility of this having any excitement behind it whatsoever with almost impressive levels of disregard.
And while that statement isn’t liable to get much pushback (because who would immolate their last shred of dignity by defending Trapt in 2020?), there might be a bit of skepticism as to whether Shadow Work is really worth drawing that much attention to. So instead, let’s put it this way – to the singular fan of Trapt, does the idea of these nu-metal also-fans trading their sound in wholesale for gutless, by-committee post-grunge excite you? Because that’s exactly what this is, from front to back. The reasons why that’s so funny are pretty numerous, but they can generally be boiled down to two main points – a) this is one of the most nakedly blatant examples of a band falling to their knees and playing the radio-rock game for a shot at vindication that’s came around in years, and b) for a band so keen to puff out their chests and dish out the big words, there’s suspiciously little follow-through that could give those words any significant weight, almost as if Trapt are fine with raking in the notoriety when it’s building a profile from them, but aren’t willing to do the same if it risks their potential comeback, which they themselves have done the most to cut the legs from underneath on this very album.
Really though, that’s only funny because it’s Trapt, as it’s not like Shadow Work in principle is all that different from any other crappy, out-of-date post-grunge album. Of course, that fact shouldn’t be ignored, and there’s still a comic irony to the band whose best-known trait is being headstrong and taking on anyone trying their hand at threadbare radio-rock simpering with the exact lack of conviction that one might expect. And conviction is still important, even in music like this, but Trapt barely seem to know the meaning of the word given how cobbled-together and drained of imagination this album feels. This is Trapt seeing how far they bring over surface-level, angsty butt-rock into 2020, with all the same broad, unspecific tropes that plagued the nu-metal they once skulked around in; there’s not a single moment in any of these lyrics that feels as though it’s actually been lived, not just because Brown has next to no vocal talent or ability to convey real, raw emotion, but also because the plastic sheen laid over every single scenario here has no grounding in real life. Brown might want his gullible audience to believe his tales of turbulent relationships (or as Too Little Too Late puts it, “the definition of insanity”), but there’s no drive that makes it feel wild and out of control, nor is there any considerable emotion to convey sorrow or longing. It’s wholly indicative of the safety blanket that Trapt have retreated to in this pivot, to the point where very clear signs that Brown’s issues in this relationship stem almost entirely from his own hang-ups Tell Me How You Really Feel, Far Enough Away and Trying Too Hard, among others, feel less like moments of sloppy writing that have no idea how to properly reach their points of emotional synchronicity, and more like moments to be thankful for, in that they spark some kind of reaction at all.
And while it would be more than enough for Trapt to pair their lyrical ineptitude with a standard post-grunge template to really wring out whatever they can from the radio-rock formula, it’s the direction they’ve ultimately gone in that’s perhaps the most laughable, especially coming so soon after the hardman tirade that this was supposed to follow on from. Yes, it’s rooted in post-grunge that’s as flaccid and generic as it comes, but Shadow Work is also a shameless attempt to steal the overproduced thunder of all the other Imagine Dragons copycats, albeit about two years too late. The presumably uplifting lighter tone of Tell Me How You Really Feel and the cheesy pop-rock anthemia of Too Far Away feel lifted directly from the most undercooked leftovers of current-period Bon Jovi, and as Trapt only proceed further and slather on their polish to a post-grunge murk that only makes it more muted and toneless, it really does become clear how little this album needed to exist. There’s not one moment of creativity here that can be deemed a necessary progression, as if Trapt glanced at the rock radio charts for half a second and decided that’s the only way to become successful. But at least with those acts, for as synthetic and as spuriously classified as ‘rock’ as they can be, they’ve at least got ideas, or a way to implement them in a way that works. Trapt clearly have no idea what they’re doing by comparison, and while they themselves might believe this album is a suitable vehicle to get their defiant presence back into the mainstream consciousness, no one actually buys that, and they certainly can’t make a convincing argument for it themselves.
And honestly, that just feels like the perfect underline for everything that Trapt have put themselves through over the past few months. They can kick and scream as much as they like, and do whatever it takes to get the attention they crave, but beneath the surface, there’s absolutely nothing to them that’s worth caring about. Shadow Work is as clear a representation of that as it comes, too; for all the pretensions towards asserting themselves as radio juggernauts and making a mark on the scene that they have, Trapt couldn’t come across as more irrelevant and out of touch if they tried, and bending towards ‘maturity’ in the absolute most superficial way possible solidifies that in the most on-brand way possible. And while a review really isn’t needed to convey how worthless this album is – again, it’s Trapt – it’s still nice to acknowledge that, amidst all the turbulence and division going on in the world, it’s nice of Trapt to come through and give everyone something to come together and laugh at. Now, go on – back to your hole where we never have to think about you again.
For fans of: who cares?
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Shadow Work’ by Trapt is out now on Crash Collide.