CD Review: Fake Problems – “It’s Great to Be Alive”

Fake Problems – “It’s Great to Be Alive”
(SideOne Dummy)

Fuck. I wanted this to be good. It seemed like it was going to be good. Fake Problems‘ other releases have all knocked it out of the park in terms of quality. Viking Wizard Eyes, Wizard Full of Lies – excellent. Their cover of Waylon Jennings’ “Ramblin’ Man” on their Under the Influences split with Look Mexico – inspired. How Far Our Bodies Go – near perfect. But this? It’s Great to Be Alive is pretty much the exact opposite of how I feel after listening to this record. Why is it that the number of bands that can manage to move ahead and change their sound I can count on one hand? I mean, aside from the Hives, I can’t name one band that’s managed to get relatively big and figure out that better production doesn’t mean sanitized.

It seems that every band to ever work their way up from indie label to semi-important one ends up getting into the studio and just erasing every bit of grit off their first “big” record. The funk guitar on the first half of the records I could handle if it wasn’t for the fact that they seem to be trying to end up somewhere between Los Campesinos! and Against Me! in terms of sound – and we all know what happened to Against Me! on their big coming out. It’s an idea that could’ve worked well, but ends up sounding forced and a bid for mainstream success – and not a little like Maroon 5. Fake Problems and funk just doesn’t work, however, especially considering the fact that the vocals, while charming under previous, slightly low-fi production, now just sounds like Chris Farron can’t fucking sing.

What’s especially awful is that the songs that work do so amazingly well. “The Heaven and Hell Cotillion” and “Tabernacle Song” are the two numbers on It’s Great to Be Alive that don’t seem like a calculated move to try something new and different. They’re sing-alongs, punk songs, and country songs all rolled up together, and made me happy, which in turn frustrated the hell out of me, because they showed what could have been. Those songs worked within the established genre-bending in which the band has already shown to be proficient, rather than branching off into some sad-ass white boy funk exercise.