The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus sure have been on one heck of an emotional rollercoaster ride. In 2005, the band’s debut LP Don’t You Fake It dropped in stores internationally and boy, did it make a big splash. While the album received mixed reviews from critics, listeners far and wide were drawn to the band’s catchy tunes intertwined with vocalist Ronnie Winter’s high-pitched, soothing voice.
The album spawned four singles, with “Face Down” and “Your Guardian Angel” doing extremely well both in the US and internationally. DYFI was certified Gold by the RIAA the same year and suddenly TRJA was everywhere – on the soundtracks of movies and video games and television adverts. Great start for the band right?
It was a wonderful start, apart from the fact that the band’s meteoric rise left them with the unenviable task of pleasing die hard fans AND the major label execs. The fans wanted another album in the vein of DYFI while the label sought to reproduce the album’s financial success. Enter Howard Benson, producer extraordinaire, infamous amongst music fans for his uncanny ability to turn any band’s music into “mainstream (s)hits” (e.g. Saosin, Flyleaf).
Cue the mediocre mess of a sophomore effort in Lonely Road, an album chock full of too safe, radio-friendly hits. Musically, the album displayed a newfound infusion of Southern rock and classical stringed instruments. Despite the record’s polished sheen, listeners were left clamouring for TRJA’s older, catchier and more upbeat songs.
In short, the fallout from the less than successful (critically and commercially) Lonely Road led to the band firing longtime manager Steve Tramposch and their eventual departure from Virgin Records.
Since then, the band has decided to release music independently, beginning with 2010’s Hell or High Water EP, which saw the band return to their roots, ditching Lonely Road’s polished, clean stylings for their debut’s faster and aggressive sound. The EP was truly a return to form, as TRJA let loose the frustrations they had pent in since the Lonely Road fiasco. Winter’s screams were added back into the mix, matching the furious guitars and precise drumming.
Following the release of the EP, the band headed into the studio to record their third full-length album, Am I The Enemy, with producer John Feldmann. The band recorded the album in December 2010 and released their first single off the album, “Reap,” on March 24th.
So, what are my thoughts on the song? “Reap” kicks off with air raid sirens, sounding a whole lot like the intro to The Used’s song “Liar, Liar.” A few seconds in, a Linkin Park-esque (before they decided to go all soft) guitar riff kicks in before Winter finally joins in the fun with a new take on his usual sing/scream style.
Winter’s opening “shouts” (reminiscent to a lower-pitched Scott Wade shout) of “No one said that this would be easy,” will have listeners slack jawed with surprise and amusement (I know I was). The track sounds like it was hurled from the Adidas-metal wave of the early 00’s. While it might not be the most flattering comparison, fans will be glad to see that the band has chosen to play around more with their sound, mixing things up instead of re-hashing their past hits.
The shouting leads into the barked gang vocals of, “That was just your empty pride!” The song then treads into familiar territory, as Winter sings the chorus with his relaxing, easy-on-the-ears croon. The lyrics aren’t particularly groundbreaking, as it weaves a cautionary tale of karma and the age-old saying of “what comes around, goes around.”
The musicianship of “Reap” serves as the backing band for Winter, with the suitably heavy guitars churning out riffs any capable rock band can produce. The drumming is perfunctory at best, providing the (weak) backbone of the song. Winter clearly is the focal point of the song and while his vocal performance is as enjoyable as ever, the band’s experimentation still needs more fine-tuning, especially if they seek to return to their roots, let alone reinvent themselves.
On a more positive note, I enjoyed the song (flaws and all) because compared to Lonely Road, the song shows the band actually striving to make real, earnest music and improve. If “Reap” is anything to go by, Am I The Enemy promises to be one heck of a leap forward.