Two years ago, rap metal was in its heyday, and Papa Roach were a long-running all-ages rock band from Northern California with a smash debut single called "Last Resort." Written by frontman Coby Dick about a friendís suicide attempt, the song struck a more empathetic chord than your average Limp Bizkit outburst, and its devilish guitar hook gave contemporary metal a much-needed shot of old-school valor. The bandís follow-up hit, "Broken Home," dealt with divorce in similarly vivid terms. They opened for Limp Bizkit and Eminem on the high-profile Anger Management Tour, and their first major-label album, Infest (DreamWorks), went on to sell three million copies.
Now Papa Roach are back with a new disc, lovehatetragedy (DreamWorks), and a spot on the second Anger Management Tour, which hits the Tweeter Center in Mansfield this Saturday. Frontman Dick has decided to go by his birth-certificate name, Jacoby Shaddix. And on the bandís current hit, "She Loves Me Not," he adds marital strife to the list of personal issues heís confronted in song. Faced with rejection by his wife, he reacts like many an immature rock guy before him: "I donít know if I care/Iím the jerk/Lifeís not fair." The band supply the forceful funk-metal backdrop, and Shaddix gets his aggression out Fred DurstĖstyle on the songís pissed-off rap interlude. Suicide attempts and broken homes are one thing, but itís hard to imagine a better example of the new rock realism than writing a hit song about fighting with your wife from the road.
"She Loves Me Not" aside, Papa Roach follow in P.O.D.ís multi-platinum footsteps by choosing pop over hip-hop on lovehatetragedy. And like their SoCal buddies, they prove thereís life after rap metal for bands who arenít afraid of melody. First-time Papa Roach producer Brendan OíBrien is a master at getting live-sounding rock on the radio (see Stone Temple Pilots, Pearl Jam, and most recently Train), and his influence shines through on the bandís monster choruses and party grooves alike. The album opens on a high note with "M-80," a full-throttle blast of near-punk belligerence from the frayed ends of Shaddixís sanity. Heís sharp as a knife, high as a kite, demented as the night is long ó and not about to slow down. "Baby címon!" he howls at the end of the chorus, and the group match him drink for drink without losing sight of the hook.
Most of lovehatetragedy was written during the bandís grueling OzzFest 2001 stint, which left them on the verge of breaking up. Shaddix was so distraught, he wrote more than one song about fighting with his wife, and once he even calls out his bandmates. "I need a bottle, I need some pills/I need a friend, I need some thrills," he sings on "Time and Time Again," a bracing pop-metal anthem that shifts between his perspective and that of his wife. He hits rock bottom on "Decompression Period," a moving Staind ballad that rises above the gloom with a gorgeous melody that verges on prog. As you listen to the disc, itís hard to believe that both the band and Shaddixís marriage are going strong today.
But making triumph out of tragedy is what Papa Roach do best, and their high-testosterone pop is ultimately more fun than anguish. Shaddixís pain runs deep on "Life Is a Bullet" and "Born with Nothing, Die with Everything"; the soaring vocal harmonies on the latter are his sweet redemption. Even "Walking Thru Barbed Wire," a gnarly punk-metal eulogy to the singerís dead dog, sounds disarmingly sincere. The only time the band screw up is when they try to get metaphysical on "Singular Indestructible Droid," a plodding screamer that (unfortunately) has nothing to do with Star Wars.
One of the last things youíd expect to find in the anti-sentimental world of commercial metal is a September 11 song. But thatís exactly what Papa Roach deliver at the end of lovehatetragedy, and it means enough to them that they make it the albumís title track. Itís a fitting expression of fear and confusion that ends up being the most optimistic song on the disc. "You better run for your life!" screams Shaddix over a terrifying metal bridge thatís a little too vérité for its own good. But he also calms down enough to reflect on whatís really important to him: "Itís sad it took war just to bring us together/I believe in love/I believe in forever."
P.O.D. said as much on Satellite (Atlantic), which came out September 11 and took a sobering look at school violence on the hit "Youth of the Nation." It seemed unlikely that the stars of rap metal would ever learn to write melodies. But if Papa Roach and P.O.D. can do just that and even show a little heart, then who knows ó there might be hope for Fred Durst after all.
The Anger Management Tour features performances by Eminem, Ludacris, Papa Roach, Xzibit, and others this Saturday, July 27, at the Tweeter Center in Mansfield. Call (508) 339-2331.