You’ve gotta hand it to Papa Roach: their career could have peaked with “Last Resort” and taken them on the nostalgia tour route with also-rans like Adema and Motograter, but instead they’ve been doing a damned good job staying relevant into 2017 without fully crossing over to any one trend. They’ve always been a hard rock band at their core, but the Vacaville veterans gradually gathered other elements to their sound over the years – whether it be the nu-metal of Infest and lovehatetragedy, to their catchier arena rock of The Paramour Sessions, to flirting with electronica on The Connection. So it is that with new platter Crooked Teeth, Papa Roach continues their experimentation with poppier elements heard on more recent fare, while at the same time doing a nice throwback to the muscular angst that saw them playing Ozzfest stages early in their career.
And for the most part, it works. The harder songs of the bunch (like “Break the Fall” and “American Dreams”) are smartly arranged, knowing when to crank up the intensity and when to dial it back. The title track in particular is a wild-eyed stomper that nails the punk energy the band had on Infest and shows why Jacoby Shaddix has one of the most powerful voices in hard rock. Indeed, his voice is what carries most of Crooked Teeth’s songs – including lead single “Help” which could have sounded “eh” in another band’s hands – over the goal line into “catchy and memorable” territory.
There are some missteps, though. The straight-up pop song “Born For Greatness”, co-written with Jason Evigan (Jason Derulo, Maroon 5), puts much of the band in the background in favor of handclaps and stuttering hi-hats, offering little else in replay value. And “Sunrise Trailer Park”, with its acoustic verses and drunk driving storyline, tries too hard to be a moody hip hop tune and instead comes off wayyy dated. Everlast did this sort of thing better, and even a guest verse by Machine Gun Kelly doesn’t save it.
That being said, the second biggest standout on this album besides the title track is, surprisingly, another pop song. The sparse ballad “Periscope” sees Shaddix scale back his pipes to a restrained croon for a duet with Skylar Gray that is more effective than one would think. I don’t imagine it being played live anytime soon, but if Papa Roach were ever looking for a potential crossover radio hit, this could do it for them.
If you didn’t like Papa Roach before, or if you just wrote them off after “Last Resort” got played to death back in the day, Crooked Teeth won’t do much to change your mind. For current fans, or those willing to give it a chance, the album offers plenty of hard rocking moments while throwing in a couple of curveballs. Maybe the cramped Hollywood studio where they recorded this album helped the looser, “let’s do what we want” vibe, but overall the guys do sound like they’re having the most fun they’ve had in years. For the most part, it’s a fun ride for the listener, too.