Just as an initial caveat, this review of a pop-punk album is not going to please fans of pop-punk. One can get on board with some classic Smoking Popes, the occasional Hold Steady, and a healthy dosage of the Replacements. Yet, when an album comes along that aims to imitate these three bands without a fresh take on that style, a number of issues arise. For this very reason, Cheap Girls’ newest album fails to make a lasting impression.
The Lansing, MI, trio’s third LP, Giant Orange, is a homogeneous sampling of sounds overheard while on tour with the Smoking Popes, produced by Against Me!’s Tom Gabel. In fact, the band sounds so much like a phoned-in imitation of the Smoking Popes that it’s confusing as to why they might have been tour mates at all. Giant Orange features all the pop-punk characteristics: driving major chord guitar hooks, wall-of-sound drums, and droney, angsty vocals, but here it’s overdone. There’s little diversity in the instrumentation. The central hooks of songs like “Gone All Summer” and “Communication Blues” sound like the guitar tracks were frozen during playback on one continuous, unoriginal loop.
Then there are the vocals. Ian Graham’s uniform wails journey through relationship anguish, musing about life, and wandering emotions. The album’s lead single, “Ruby”, is too earnest—a formulaic pop-punk song that forgot to inject the substance. “Cored to Empty” does not improve on this formula, its chorus professing, “When you first found me, I was dirty, broken, cored to empty,” sounding like an overly ambitious journal entry, only presented in a flat vocal style. “Mercy-Go-Round” features hardly discernible whines laid over an illogical rhythm and hook.
An album desperate for texture, flavor, and risks, Giant Orange is the aural equivalent of middle-of-the-road musical tragedy. For those who prefer their bands with a signature style (or even some heart), look somewhere else
Essential Tracks: N/A