CD REVIEW Hoobastank Hasn’t Grown Up
For(N)ever Isn’t Bad…It’s Just Not Good
Produced by Howard Benson
Released Jan. 27, 2009
Hoobastank is a lot like the hula-hoop. Everybody knows that they still exist somewhere and that people used to really like them, but it’s been so long since they’ve done anything remotely memorable that no one actually knows what’s happened to them. Clocking in at a tepid thirty-eight minutes, For(N)ever resembles a married couple’s 25th anniversary night activities: too short to be satisfying, but mediocre enough that you’re still glad it’s over quickly.
For(N)ever is Hoobastank’s fourth studio album, coming three years after their last (relatively unsuccessful) release, five years after the double-platinum success of “The Reason,” and eight after their 2001 debut, which spawned a number of top 40 hits. On this latest endeavor, Hoobastank again blast out generic alt-rock numbers from start to finish with nary a break in tempo, guitar tone, or screaming, and I must confess that even after several listens I still have a difficult time telling the majority of the songs on the album apart. Hoobastank exemplify everything that one has come to expect from alt-rock: overly processed guitars, scream-y vocals, and lyrics about being a lonely teenager.
Not to say that For(N)ever does not have its share of good moments. It might not be the share that one might hope for, but it’s enough to set it apart from a Britney Spears level catastrophe. While Hoobastank does essentially play the same song eleven times in a row, they do deserve credit for not making that one song so terrible that it makes young children weep in agony (I’m looking at you, Limp Bizkit). If For(N)ever were a McDonald’s menu item, it would be the chicken club; nobody actually buys it, but it’s unobjectionable enough that if you got one for free you, wouldn’t turn it down.
“You’re The One,” for example, is an undeniably good rock ballad, and “Tears Of Yesterday” blends genuinely creative guitar work with clever tonalities to craft a delightfully ethereal song. I was also very impressed with guitarist Dan Estrin’s funk-like riffs throughout the album, which evoked an earlier, more sublime time when Hoobastank wrote songs that people actually jumped around to, and not just because they were still hopped up on club drugs from the ’90s.
Essentially, Hoobastank are a solid band with fairly cool musical ideas that write lyrics like a roomful of fourteen-year-olds on Xanax. The perfect example of this dichotomy is the painful “Who The Hell Am I,” whose title alone should provide an idea of the cheesiness encompassed in its four agonizing minutes. Put simply, the lyrics of this song constitute some of the worst possible ways to combine English words into grammatical sentences. With such epically yelled lines as “I won’t apologize for who I come to be / ’Cause who the hell am I if I can’t be me,” singer Doug Robb perfectly sums up the experience of being a hormonal teenager with a very loud voice. It baffles me that bands still feel the need to use rhyme books to compose their lyrics.
The worst part of the song, however, is that when considered in a purely musical sense, “Who The Hell Am I” isn’t actually that bad. Granted, it’s not the next “Stairway to Heaven,” and it’s fairly far from one of Beethoven’s sonatas, but the track does possess a genuinely nifty melody and some interesting Middle-Eastern-influenced guitar work. The overall effect of these conflicting levels of quality is similar to finding a decomposing raccoon in a slice of your birthday cake: sure you could ignore it and enjoy the other parts, but the overall experience has really been completely ruined.
For(N)ever is not a great album, but I might be lying if I said that I will never listen to it again. Despite Hoobastank’s shameless pandering to the “under 16 with serious feelings” demographic, some of the tracks are listenable and one or two even manage to be good. I fear our DRM wielding overlords as much as the next cowardly law-abiding citizen, so I won’t condone free music downloads, but For(N)ever is the sort of album which one ought to buy only when one has far too much money to spend. Think about where you put your wallet. Go and find it. If, on the way there, you tripped over a surge protector made of solid gold and fell into a flaming tub of $100 bills that you’ve been burning instead of paying for heat, then this album is for you. Otherwise, I recommend buying “You’re the One” or “Tears of Yesterday” on iTunes and getting on with your life.