Zebrahead - Phoenix
Record Label: Icon Records
Release Date: August 5, 2008 (USA)
Originality is something that can be difficult, even elusive, to find in modern music. Many bands claim originality and may even meet those claims to some level, but ultimately, much of what’s out there has already been done before by someone else. Then there are some bands who take all kinds of things that have been done before and mix and match to create almost (and that’s a big almost) new genres.
Zebrahead is one of those bands. For those unfamiliar with these 10-year-plus veterans, Zebrahead incorporates elements of punk, rock, ska and hip-hop, to create a sound that is fairly unique. It was knowing very little about these guys other than their mixture of punk and rap, that I began my task of reviewing their latest effort Phoenix.
Upon my first listen of this album, I instantly noticed the talent these guys have. The guitars are sharp and blistering at times (listen with caution as your face may melt right off of your head), courtesy of Greg Bergdorf and Matty Lewis (who also shares vocal duties). The rhythm section is tight and very well-rounded by drummer Ed Udhus and bassist Ben Osmundson. Co-lead vocalist Ali Tabatabaee is a talented rapper, at times reminiscent of a high-pitched Mike Shinoda (Linkin Park, Fort Minor). The band’s strengths are definitely showcased thanks to strong production split by Howard Benson and Cameron Webb.
Now to the songs themselves. Phoenix kicks off with “HMP,” which features spastic drumming and equally spastic guitar work. “Hell Yeah!” is an anthem of appreciation for all of Zebrahead’s faithful fans. The first single “Mental Health” is a fun listen that features plenty of “hey hey hey’s,” “woah-oh’s” and hand-claps.
Rather than continue on with a track-by-track analysis of Phoenix, I will cut to the chase and leave you with my final thoughts. This is a fun album to listen to, and good for driving around with the windows down through what’s left of your summer or to blast at full volume at your next party. Now before you think that I’m telling you this is a perfect album, here are a few of my problems with Zebrahead’s new album: the number one area this album suffers is on lyrics. A lot of the songs seem to be about the same topic, which isn’t a huge problem – I realize that there are concept albums and what not, but I don’t think this was what Zebrahead had in mind. It’s not that the lyrics aren’t relatable either, so much as there just isn’t much offered in the way of creativity for the lyrics. Again, not that songwriting shouldn’t or can’t be completely straightforward and still be good, but I just feel that they could have done a little bit better with them.
The second thing I struggle with listening to Phoenix was getting used to the rapping vocals. As I said before, Tabatabaee is a talented rapper, but sometimes his vocals just don’t seem to mix well with some of the songs (“HMP,” “Ignite” and a few others).
Overall, I feel that Zebrahead have offered up a solid album that is sure to gain new fans while pleasing old fans as well.