Following the technically curious remix experiment that was “American Tradgedy Redux,” I resolved to give Hollywood Undead another shot. My logic was that if other musicians could do interesting things with the core music, then perhaps either A) there’s something there I’ve missed, or B) the band could learn and evolve from studying what others have done with their product. So I dove in, clear eyes, full heart, can’t lose as they say in Dillon, Texas.
The first thing that a listener notices is that Hollywood Undead’s billing as a rap metal act may be inaccurate. “Notes From the Underground” reminds me an awful lot of Quarashi, the now-defunct Icelandic band who also had a slippery grip on the label “metal.” The production for Hollywood Undead is a high-gloss affair, a smooth pour with a clean finish, even in the thrashier moments. There are instances, like the fresh club-pop of “Another Way Out” when Hollywood Undead survives appreciably well without needing metal at all.
Unfortunately, one of the album’s glowing flaws is that based on the depth of a given track, it’s easy for a listener to decipher which songs are the singles and which are the filler. Songs like “Dead Bite” and “We Are” are chock full of layered nuance and tweaked audio, but any cut not mentioned in the press release is woefully underdone.
Just as the production ebbs and flows, so too does the bravado. The entire album is riddled with mixed emotional messages, like a fifteen year old’s diary. “Notes From the Underground” is stacked high with song combinations that make one question the record’s authenticity. Are we to believe the swagger of “Kill Everyone” or the soul-searching of “Believe?” These cuts are unapologetically placed back to back, and the listener is faced with the dilemma of which is the credible message and which the manufactured one.
Additionally, the record is also terribly limited lyrically, with stunted rhyming and immature sentiments. Simple language isn’t in itself a sin – after all, Hemmingway used common lexicon and if we’re talking about rap, DMX wrote the meaningful classic “Who We Be” with mostly one and two syllable words. But pairing pedantic rhyming with juvenile imagery is a recipe for disaster, and Hollywood Undead cooks that soup with reckless abandon. The first cut “Dead Bite” contains the charming lyric “I’ma spit on your grave / And then carve a dick on it.” Roughly a decade ago in my hometown, there was an incident where someone had scrawled a vague political message on the highway-facing side of a building, accompanied by a depiction of a phallus. When apprehended, the culprit was a sixteen-year-old suburban miscreant from the local high school. So that’s roughly the equivalent of what we’re dealing with here.
But we’re not done. No, during “Up in Smoke” (because of course the halfway point between wanting to vaporize society or find your way in the universe is marijuana,) Hollywood Undead cleverly rhymes “cholos” with “homos” and accuses us all of associating with the latter. It’s an anachronism of staggering immaturity, a bullshit moment from 1996 or ’97 come back to haunt us.
The worst offender is “Pigskin,” a song where the band combines these stated attitudes with their desire for loose women. One can only imagine. Yet, that song is followed by “Rain,” another hopeful soul-searcher, as though the addition of a valiant ideal vindicates what came before….sigh.
I tried. I really did. If you’re looking for better rap rock or rap metal, stay with Rage Against the Machine or Orange 9MM. If you’re looking for an album that takes badass violent and vengeful lyrics to another level but can still change gears to lighter fare, go find Ghostface Killah’s “Fishscale.” The reductive person in me believes that if something contains the word "underground" in it's title, that's a sure sign that it isn't. “Notes From the Underground” lacks creativity, consistency and authenticity. And now we’re done talking about it. Go elsewhere.