The Higher

It's Only Natural

Written by: TL on 05/08/2009 23:34:35

Even though I have reluctantly warmed up to "On Fire", the last album by The Higher, since I under graded it criminally back in my less experienced days of reviewing, I never really got to a place where I was looking forward to another doze of their emo-pop fusion. I guess I should've been clued in by the fact that I've been singing along to "Weapons Wired" (and others) ever since "On Fire" though, because now that I've listened to the follow-up "It's Only Natural", I have only one thing to say about The Higher: I fucking love them!

Why? Because with this album in hand, I can effectively silence any disgruntled dimwit teen prone to whine about my negative reviews of other pop-rock acts, because this proves that I don't do it out of some misplaced hatred for pop. Those other bands just aren't good, and The Higher - The Higher are fuckin awesome. But wait a minute, did I just build up to a positive review of a pop record here at Rockfreaks.net? Yep, that's the case, and while that might give you some preconceptions (it did to me on "On Fire", hence the low score), if you can get around it or if you're already unapologetic about liking pop, then this is for you. If not, your time will be better spent banging your head against the wall instead of reading because The Higher are pop, P-O-P!.. actually hell, they're even R'n'B in places! Oh dear lord!

"If Justin Timberlake were a band, he'd be The Higher." - That line opens the band's own description on their myspace, and while it may seem like a cheeky shot at controversy, the fact is that it couldn't be closer to the truth. Skip for a minute the opening "Try Again" (even though it's quite good) and witness two points in case, "Other Options" and "Undertaker". Both songs would have fitted as well on JT's "Justified" as they do here, and the marvel is that, they don't sound like inferior copies, rather they sound like a real band's tribute to the new king of pop and they even echo a similar sense of class (I'm a Timberlake fan, guilty as charged). Especially "Undertaker", one of the album's best songs, smells delightfully of JT's "Cry Me A River" with it's backing vocals, and the lyrics, about being the life of the party in the band's hometown Las Vegas, have some cool attitude to them too.

The title track follows with a more conventional pop-rock sound, and while it's chorus is still more infectious than the plague, it does feel like a slight step back.. but then wait, what's that? That would be a guitar solo, and the first sign that there will actually be some rock dripping into the pop here. A thread that's picked up instantly by "Story Of A Man Obsessed", but again, while it's soooo catchy, it's still a little less good than the two JT-ish songs. I'm on the verge of thinking that the band is better off mixing a bit of rock into their pop, as opposed to the other way around, but then "The (Runaway) Artist" comes along with a very classic approach, and a bridge with some female guest vocals that cuts through all the pop and seem dangerously close to being.. real? No time to think about that though, because it's time for "Play With Fire" - A shameless return to the R'n'B that, as if it's lyrics didn't super glue themselves to your mind on their own, also sports some really crunchy guitars here and there. If nowhere else, it's here that singer Seth Trotter displays the best how well his melodies work, as he keeps you on the edge of your seat by changing from breathtaking staccato sneer to classic pop croon in a manner that is simply an exhibition in just how this kind of stuff is supposed to be done.

Now this album does have drawbacks though, and the next three tracks are the most clear ones. Apart from a nicely tapped guitar lick in "Burn And Turn" the song doesn't seem to have that much more to offer, and "The Black Dress" is just too bouncy to maintain the coolness of what is otherwise on offer here. "Beautiful Dress" is also a bit too straight forward to impress, and as you might be clued in by two songs in a row including the word "dress", the album does also contain the odd lyrical slip-up here and there. Mostly Trotter keeps himself on the bearable side of the, granted, quite cliché pop lyrics about partying or dealing with lovers, but there are slightly embarrassing moments to be found. It's a shame really, because if the lyrics had been more edgy, this band could be on the verge of making a new "A Fever You Can't Sweat Out".

Anyway, the fun picks back up on "Scandalous", which is arguably the most rockin' song on the album - or that is, half of it is, because with it's seven minutes, this song sends another nod of appreciation towards Mr. Timberlake. This time it's the tendency of fusing two relatively separate songs in one track (think "Lovestoned/I Think That She Knows" off "FutureSex/LoveSounds") that's being mimicked. Unfortunately, the second half of it, driven by acoustic guitar and cheesy electronics, sound too much like some of the all too trendy garbage from the neon scene and it is the only truly bad moment on the album. Right when I'm starting to worry about the album's consistency though, The Higher make another great comeback, this time by covering Ne-Yo's excellent "Closer". Now Trotter's vocals may be notably inferior to Ne-Yo's, but when the band has not only managed to pick a pop song that's actually good to cover, but also showed more faith in their own material by placing the cover last on their album, it's still like having your cake and eating it too. And with the addition of guitars to the song? Damn, hand me a fuckin' cigarette please..

So, before I wrap this lengthy bastard up, here's a bit of awareness about it: I'm going to anticipate that a certain editor of this site will soon be seen commenting on how "gay" this sounds in the comments, and how he much prefers a band like Cash Cash when it comes to catchy pop. And at first glance, both bands can indeed be attributed that label, but where Cash Cash represent a naive and childish carelessness that is frankly annoying to me, The Higher show a passion for pop and a will to prove that they can take it's attitude and make an album's worth of good songs, using real instruments and without resorting to making a joke out of it. That to me is simply so much more classy, and that's why I think you can take your crunk, your neon, your Disney bands, your Danger Radio and your Metro Station, and you can stick them all where the sun doesn't shine, because if you're in the market for QUALITY pop, The Higher is where it's at!

8

Download: Play With Fire, Undertaker, Other Options, Closer
For The Fans Of: Justin Timberlake, Panic At The Disco, Cute Is What We Aim For, Maroon 5
Listen: myspace.com/thehigher

Release Date 23.06.2009
Epitaph

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