The last thing I expected to find on Project 86's latest release was a tongue-in-cheek nod to Elton John. More on that later. Generally, I know what to expect from Project. That is: punishing riffage, brutally honest lyrics, satire and social commentary, emotional turmoil and a sound that sets them apart from basically everyone. The same goes for Rival Factions, helmed incidentally by Deftones producer Ulrich Wilde. Andrew and the boys have really pushed their sound into a new realm, further differentiating themselves from the heavily genre-labeled rock scene.
"Evil (A Chorus of Resistance)," "Put Your Lips to the TV" and "The Forces of Radio Have Dropped a Viper into the Rhythm Section" (My favorite song title since Simon & Garfunkels' "A Simple Desultory Philippic (Or How I Was Robert McNamara'd Into Submission") are the album-openers and are pretty much standard fare for anyone who's been a Project 86 fan from the beginning. Arguably, they're the strongest or most potent of the album, with a caveat. That being, if you're not expecting what comes next, which is basically a great album heavily influenced by '80s music.
"Molotov" is a poppy tune about leaving the party scene for the reason of self-preservation, and the backlash received from friends. If you can't hear 1985 in the pop groove and guitar leads, turn in your banana clip and/or slap bracelet and find the exit. "I Ran (So Far Away)" from Flock of Seagulls comes to mind powerfully. Even Andrew's vocal style for the singing parts seem accented by '80s singers, especially the closer, "Normandy," where Schwab sounds of any number of artists from Dead or Alive lead singer Pete Burns to touches of Billy Idol.
All this is without affecting the overall 'tone' of the album, which is still very much solely a Project effort. This isn't a tribute album, or a cover set. This is simply a bunch of guys making music that they'd like to listen to. "The Sanctuary Hum," while a bit standard as far as guitar work goes, has an underlying track of synthesized 'Ah's' and is fast and heavy, as is "Slaves to Liberty," a prog-rocker with a sing-along chorus of "Call on me!" Every track fits, even the more eccentric ones like the aforementioned "Pull Me Closer, Violent Dancer," a titular snort-laugh reference to Elton John's "Tiny Dancer." This one is really different for Project: A song about dancing, with a chorus that starts out, "Don't stop pulling me closer…" It's almost cognitive dissonance; especially the bridge part that has tambourines and synth claps. Weird. Another oddball is "Caveman Jam." Anyone whose mother or girlfriend ever said to them about their hardcore music tastes, "Why do you listen to that angry music? It must be of the devil!" will appreciate this song, which pokes fun at people who don't understand why they can't just write sensitive songs. And again, "Normandy," a lyrically fabulous, yet strangely vocally articulated metaphor about a car wreck, ends the album reinforcing the new sound dynamic, rather than the usual vehemence.
Highlights on this one are definitely "The Forces of Radio Have Dropped a Viper into the Rhythm Section," which just plain rocks your face clean off your skull, "Normandy," and my favorite "Illuminate," which has serious 80s synth keys throughout and the cool chorus, "When they hide in the shadows of night/ Light em up/ Light em up/ in the dark let's ignite/ We're the ones." The weakest link has got to be "Pull Me Close, Violent Dancer." So don't expect perfect fluidity from start to finish like Drawing Black Lines or …And the Rest Will Follow. The songs on Rival Factions fit together, but they are all very different. Influences I heard ranged from the bands already mentioned to Genesis, Reggie and the Full Effect, The Cars, and countless others. You won't find any "Stein's Theme's" or "Subject to Change's" here. What you will find is probably one of the most unique rock releases this year, and another album from Project 86 who do more than simply rock out, they enthrall us, enfold us, draw us together and detonate. Anyone who's ever attended a show with these guys knows what I'm talking about. It's all about passion. Rival Factions is going to surprise some longtime fans, and it's hard to say whether they've made themselves more accessible or less accessible. But it doesn't really matter. If you appreciate good music and good rock, Rival Factions will grab your attention. It is absolutely their best album since Drawing Black Lines, and that is really saying a lot. I'm sure Schwab and the boys can't wait until people stop saying that Black Lines was their best album. I think come June 19th, that wait will be over.- Review date: 6/14/07, written by Sean Lex
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