So what’s going on with Papa Roach at the minute? That’s not some rhetorical or facetious question either—really, what are they doing? Because it doesn’t seem to be sticking or having much of a positive impact for them. After Crooked Teeth felt as though they’d settled into a way to modernise their current hard rock sound and still present a lot of focus and strength, its follow-up Who Do You Trust? fell with the thud one would expect from a band whose recent output has felt as inconsistent as their has, between an overly sanitised sound leaching out the majority of their weight, and a desire to court the radio-pop-rock pie that’s seen countless before them produce their most inessential material to date. All credit to them for being able to stick it out past nu-metal and continuously try to reinvent themselves in its wake, but the snag they’ve hit lately is significant, and they aren’t showing many signs of a clean break.
That’s where Ego Trip comes in as yet another chameleonic flex of Papa Roach’s distaste for staying still, which at this point is probably doing them more harm than good. There are better ideas on here than Who Do You Trust?, left to contend with presentation that’s just as poor. At best, it’ll deliver inoffensively anthemic Papa Roach fare; at worst, the clunks and thuds of disparate mechanisms trying to piece together their moving parts becomes supremely hard to ignore. And that’s where Papa Roach become most reminiscent of latter-day Fall Out Boy, not just as a once-solid band trying to reassemble their own identity after sledgehammering it apart, but in the way that none of it seems to come naturally. From just the second track Stand Up and its clattering, grinding rap-rock infused with a radio-rock buildup, Papa Roach seem so odds of what to make of themselves, and how to present it. There’s the lumpen Imagine-Dragons-but-alt-metal lumber of Unglued, and the flat, inert slabs of guitar on the title track and Killing Time, weighed down even further by how starved of nimbleness or momentum they are. At least on Swerve, for its similar rap-rock churn and pops of wonky horns that neither Jason Butler nor Sueco feel at home on, it moves decently well, and feels authentic to a self-confident charm that’s been a big calling card of Papa Roach for years.
If there’s one thing to say in Ego Trip’s favour then, it would ultimately be that; there’s no obvious trend that’s been suckled on, and it all comes from a place of genuine creative impetus. And that’s understandable to a degree, but only as far as Papa Roach have been around for so long that they want to try new things, not as a means of writing off how haphazard and clumsy their attempts are. That’s why it’s so disappointing that the least objectionable moments are the most cookie-cutter, in a big chunk of the polished arena-rock that Papa Roach can knock out in their sleep. For all their colourlessness and lack of distinct edge (a classic symptom of a production style that hard rock needs to get away from ASAP), Dying To Believe and Always Wandering will probably go down well live, and the stab at a big pop-rock song on No Apologies is pretty believable in how it’s executed. But at the same time, these songs feel like runoffs from Who Do You Trust?, and clumped together as they are gives the impression of anything too creative running out and defaulting back to the norm. It makes for a couple of surer hits, but only exacerbates the notion that Papa Roach have no defined plan of where they want to go. Even then, it’s never too transgressive given the writing—the usual radio-rock touchstones and ‘inner demons’ fare (see Liar for the most concise example), peppered with some wafer-thin social commentary—to further exacerbate that, however far Papa Roach believe their vision stretches, there’s a clear limit to what it really achieves.
That’s what makes Ego Trip more disappointing than anything else. Had Papa Roach kept the focus and compositional tightness of their better recent work, the lower bar would still be noticeable, but also forgivable. They’re a better band when they play to their strengths and move incrementally, rather than strip everything away and try to reassemble something presenting itself as new. That’s effectively what Ego Trip is, when the seams and lack of consistent planing are so blatant that the final product feels a lot worse as a result. It’s not even that easy to think of a workaround here; the kernels of solid ideas are present, but Papa Roach don’t even provide the material to extrapolate them into potential solid conclusions. It’s just a clumsy, patchwork mess of an album, bottom-heavy in sound but eager to cycle through its ideas early on, and ultimately satisfying on neither front. It all makes for another uneven stepping stone on a career path that’s becoming notably littered with them, and while it’s not impossible to imagine them bouncing back from it—they’ve done it before, after all—there’s a fair way to go to claw themselves back up.
For fans of: Nickelback, P.O.D, Imagine Dragons
‘Ego Trip’ by Papa Roach is out now on New Noize Records.
Words by Luke Nuttall