It’s been 12 years since Papa Roach’s single “Scars” hit the airwaves, and 17 since they crashed onto the scene with the nu-metal all-timer, “Last Resort.” Somewhere between ’93 and now, the California rock band has turned out more albums than some do in an entire career, now releasing their ninth studio album, Crooked Teeth, with all of their releases except their debut charting in the Top 20 on Billboard’s Top Albums Chart.
The good news is that the band has learned to evolve along with the times, with their newest pointing to the fact that the band never lost the knack for experimenting with new sounds. From top to bottom, Crooked Teeth toes the fine line between personal responsibility and self-deprecation, while traveling the entire rock spectrum from rap metal to alt rock and prog rock. For classic Papa Roach fans, frontman Jacoby Shaddix spent time returning to the punchy, stabbing, rap-rock lyrical delivery that defined the band’s early years, while the instrumentation experimentation provides a welcoming backdrop of variety.Mixed in with the newly revamped sound of Papa Roach are hints of the past, moments that create pause to remember sounds like Linkin Park’s Hybrid Theory, or TFK’s Phenomenon. As diverse in style as it is, the album still flows well and is brimming with energy.
Lyrically, Crooked Teeth is a brutal look inside the life of those suffering from mental illness, like PTSD, depression and anxiety. As a package, it illustrates the vacillation from sadness, fear, shame, and surrendering to the help that hopefully occurs with most mental disorders. Shaddix carries on the tradition of infusing phrases that genuinely sound “cool,” yet have some level of intentional duality, making them significant on the thematic plane. Each track is a telling of a personal and intimate story, full of honesty and the harsh truth of the subject at hand.
There’s not a song to actively dislike on Crooked Teeth, but some rise to the top. “American Dreams,” with its layered vocals and Shaddix’s slick flow, is an inside look into the effects war has on a family, centered on when the war comes home and remains internal. As hard as that hits, “Periscope” is a heartbreaking song about the isolation caused by depression, which is only deepened by the female partner’s perspective voiced by Skylar Gray.
The only other collaboration is delivered by none other than Machine Gun Kelly on “Sunset Trailer Park,” where he exercises a steady flow set to an early-millennial Kid Rock-era backdrop. MGK’s rhymes strike the heart as he tells the story of self-medication and Shaddix croons one of the cleanest choruses on the entire album. Among the backwoods, trailer-park vibe and the contrasting smooth chorus, there’s something unexpectedly attractive about this one.
Literally last, but not least, the album closes out with a cryptic, modernized song called “None of the Above.” It is the only track on the record that leaves room for interpretation. Beyond the vagueness of the lyrics, the song is fascinating because of its sound, which adds a new texture to Papa Roach with its slivers of space/prog rock bulked up with a more traditional hard rock sound.
Of course it would be remiss not to mention the album first single, “Help” which has already topped the Billboard Mainstream Rock Song charts. It’s the perfect introduction to Papa Roach’s new direction, aimed at taking the stigma out of the fight with mental illness. With a plea for deliverance, “Help” is about realizing that the only way out is through, which is probably the best way to summarize this album as a whole.
Crooked Teeth is about reinvention and acceptance. With their calico of sounds and stories, Papa Roach seems to be emphasizing the point that it doesn’t matter how someone arrives at their struggle, it’s drastically important they are heard, understood and helped. At a time when one in every five people are known to suffer from a mental illness, the time is right for the message.