Zebrahead – Phoenix
Icon Records (8/5/08)
Punk / Rapcore / Metalcore
Zebrahead are one of those bands that have always existed on the fringes of the music biz and never transcended into true artists. If they have any die-hard corps of fans, they either exist overseas or are more committed in theory than in practice. Is this because they aren’t talented? Because they aren’t original? Because their band members aren’t pinup material? No, on all counts. They’re just one of those bands that suffers from their success.
They’ve consistently kept their albums reviewed in magazines, they’ve gone out with Warped Tour and played all over Europe and Japan, amongst other places. Zebrahead are a typical fledgling rock band, as opposed to a typical independent rock band. If they didn’t have the minor amount of label success and marketing-mix business strategies of every typical also-ran band, they might have actually built a little more street cred and become at least minimally as popular as their spiritual brethren Sum 41, Good Charlotte or CKY. As it is, they just straddle a crappy fence on which to be stuck: lacking the panache needed to make them radio-stratosphere successful, but too much of a product for the indie kids.
And on Phoenix, they show exactly why—Zebrahead have no backbone. They’re a catchall for every variant of mall punk that’s been popular since the Clinton administration. The opener “HMP” has its feet in metalcore, “The Juggernauts” is a Taking Back Sunday track played double-time (figuratively), “Brixton” is straight out of the Crazy Town book of easy-to-swallow rap-rock, with a ’90s Epitaph-style chorus grafted on. Along the way they ape some brocore here, a little ska there, and their elongated, cutesy song titles come straight out of the emo blogosphere (my favorites: “Sorry, But Your Friends Are Hot”, and “Mike Dexter Is a God, Mike Dexter Is a Role Model, Mike Dexter Is an A**hole”). Individually, any one of these things could make a band popular amongst the kids at Hot Topic; and for what it’s worth, Zebrahead seem to have a good handle on how to make a song style sound like it belongs on the Wiki page for that genre.
Taken as a whole, though? Sorry guys, the “great tastes that taste great together” model doesn’t quite work in a punk idiom. Even those soulless kids at the mall are gonna call b.s. when any power-chorders don’t pick one genre and play the hell out of it. Zebrahead have a populist strategy, but when you cast too wide a net, you’re gonna pull in a lot of seaweed.
There’s also a DVD with Phoenix; and if you’re interested in seeing the band play various Warped dates, eff around in Europe and Orlando, and see some of their variant (and for what it’s worth, energetic) live shows, then get on it. For the rest of us, it’s drivel beyond YouTube level, and nothing to the album worth picking up.