One of the standout bands from the early-to-mid-2000s, Papa Roach has been consistently putting out new material since their platinum-and-gold glory days of Infest, Lovehatetragedy and Getting Away With Murder. The sales figures of recent albums may not be the same as before, but ultimately it’s the quality that counts- with that being said, the critical reception on the records The Connection, F.E.A.R and Crooked Teeth has been more lacklustre than plaque-buster, garnering mixed reviews and leading one to question whether their creative spark still remains or has been, for lack of a better term fumigated out of existence by an ever-changing musical landscape.
Who Do You Trust? is Papa Roach’s latest LP release, and far from coming off dated in the world of post-aughts rock is perfectly aligned with it without sacrificing the band’s auditory identity. The album’s opener “The Ending” incorporates synthwave-esque aesthetics with Jacoby Shaddix’s rap-scream-sing synthesis to make a fresh hybrid rock tune that could pass as revised Linkin Park for the uninitiated. “Renegade Music” treads more into the lane of the newly-reunited Rage Against The Machine, though its battle cries for the listener to “take back your life right now” and that “nothing changes until the people get loud”, if they are intended as political or social statements are far more vague and superficial than the explicitly leftist declarations of Zack De La Rocha and co.- furthermore, the screamed MF-bomb at the end in identical fashion to the one on “Killing In The Name” makes the whole track seem extra as fuck.
Starting acoustically and building into an active, exciting metro groove, “Not The Only One” sheds the electronic predominance of the first two tracks for refreshing straight-ahead instrumentation leading into a Royal Blood-style bass drop chorus guaranteed to snap a couple of necks. “Who Do You Trust?” sounds rightfully paranoid and manic in the context of an increasingly untrusting world, asking who will be there to reliably turn to “when the molotov drops.” Just as the identity of a current-year Papa Roach has been established in the consciousness of listeners, “Elevate” turns up the trap beats and orchestral hits and goes flat-out into Imagine Dragons territory. It runs the risk of musical ego-death, where being lost in the sauce of mainstream sensibilities the band’s sense of self would be lost, but nevertheless suffices as a song and single and is narrowly identifiable enough to discern them from younger contemporaries.
“Come Around” laces standard Papa Roach with elements of EDM, once again straddling the line between Billboard and the discernible realm of the Roach. In comparison to “Elevate” however, there is far more clarity and authenticity attached to “Come Around” on account of its not relying heavily on timely pastiche as an attempt towards continuing relevance. “Feel Like Home” follows in similar relevant fashion, while “Problems” edges closer to Hot 100 assimilation with familiar hip-hop snaps and electronic drums. “Top Of The World” accelerates down this path to its logical destination, which is a full, synth-immersed blurring of the lines between rock and rap. Ever since “Last Resort” shot onto the airwaves, Papa Roach’s experimentation with hip hop has been an integral component of their sound. Now, it almost threatens to be their entire sound with tracks like these if they’re not careful. It certainly isn’t to knock the track, which is certainly forward-thinking and motivational, but just to provide a word of caution to not get too caught up to where they (and their fans) forget who they are.
Perhaps such a reaction was anticipated, as the following track “I Suffer Well” is a high-octane punk interlude sharply contrasted to the digital exploration that preceded it. Nevertheless, it does feel out of place with a majority of Who Do You Trust?’s content and for that reason alone could have been done without. Venturing back into the land of the contemporary, “Maniac” starts as a trippy, pop-punkish number revolving around Shaddix questioning his sanity and mental health- the latter topic being one of longtime importance to Papa Roach. It unfortunately uncouples near the end with Shaddix belting out a pair of tortured emo screams after dishing out that “I’ve been living in my anxiety”, which slapped up against the instrumental background of this song sounds utterly incongruent. “Better Than Life” closes out the album, and in contrast to the inconsistency of the last few tracks is a strong, sensical finish comparable to the LP’s opening numbers. Any previous detours are now channelled into a streamlined, straight-ahead sound, a direction that should have been taken the whole record through but nevertheless rounds things off in a fine and adequate way.
Who Do You Trust? demonstrates that Papa Roach has the brass to take risks in stretching their sound for their times, and that given current genre-blending sensibilities they were ahead of their time when they first began. With that said, the album has a tendency as a result of this approach to spiral off into directions that don’t match up with each other as a cohesive full-length release, or worse, don’t make sense at all. Ideally whatever they release next will be more focused, more clear, more Papa Roach than ever before- whatever that may entail, as long as it still sounds like them. They didn’t cut their career into pieces here, for sure- there are still strong moments. Nevertheless there’s as much room for improvement here as there is for experimentation, and the fans can only trust that they will follow up and deliver.