Record Label: Self-Released
Genre: Alternative Rock
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After ten years in the grave, Five Iron Frenzy has reunited with a new album…the first since their “last” album “The End Is Near” in 2003. You can say that “Engine of a Million Plots” is a rebirth of Five Iron Frenzy, but I feel that it’s the birth of a new band entirely.
I’m going to break down this review into two sections. The first part is going to be the cynical ska fan in me that is very disappointed that one of the best ska punk bands of the third-wave has completely abandoned that aspect of their sound. The second part of the review will focus on the alt-rock sound that this new Five Iron Frenzy band put forth on “Engine of a Million Plots”. So…on to the cynical part.
What I loved and I’m sure most old school FIF fans loved about the band was their ability to take a strong and poignant message…whether about the injustices of Christianity or of their shameful fear of homosexuals due to peer pressure…and back the lyrics up with some of the most fun and catchy ska punk songs of the 90’s. Their songs were introspective and outgoing all at the same time. As their career moved on, the band began to experiment with various sounds and genres and with the release of “Electric Boogaloo 2” Five Iron Frenzy seemed to settle on an alternative rock with horns sound that was a drastic departure from the bouncy ska pop gems of their earlier albums. Obviously the band was maturing and so was their sound. “Engine of a Million Plots” doesn’t have those remnants of the earlier FIF sound. There is exactly one ska influenced song on the album (“Someone Else’s Problem”) and exactly one song in which the lyrics are goofy and fun and not dark, moody and foreboding (“Battle Dancing Unicorns With Glitter”) and neither of them can hold a candle to classic FIF songs. The rest of the album is comparable to what you would hear on an Against Me or Jimmy Eat World album.
With this new sound spewing forth from Five Iron Frenzy, gone are the witty lyrics and danceable ska tracks. They have been replaced with a much darker and mature sound. Reese Roper is still a great songwriter but he’s not writing about his comb or Combat Chuck anymore. The sound focuses on a meatier, punkier rock with horns approach with the horns mostly used for nothing more than background noise. Think Rocket From The Crypt more than Less Than Jake. There are still some catchy songs like the punk track “So Far” and the more serious sing-a-long “Zen & The Art of Xenophobia”.
With “Engine of a Million Plots” I seriously feel that Five Iron Frenzy may finally get a mainstream audience. That may or may not be what they’re looking for, but the songs are much more accessible and radio-friendly. Personally, their evolution leading up to and including this album into a “rock with horns” band is not for me. I loved this band when they were playing ska punk and wearing that proudly on their sleeve. Obviously, that hasn’t been part of their agenda since the turn of the century and they seem to be going the way of No Doubt, the RX Bandits and the Siren Six!.
While bands are free to play whatever in the world that they want to play, I’m also free to like and listen to whatever I choose. I love ska in all waves. I prefer it over any musical genre out there. I’m disappointed when bands shift gears away from playing ska when it was such a predominant sound throughout their career. I find most rock music nowadays bland and downright boring. When it comes down to it, for me “Engine of a Million Plots” absolutely fits the bill of what I just described. Other than a few songs, there isn’t enough to bring me back for more than a few listens. It looks to me that the old Five Iron Frenzy is truly dead and gone. I hope everyone else enjoys this new version. It’s just not Five Iron Frenzy to me.
Bottom Line: A completely new sound for the kiddies. The band has matured drastically since their break up and reformation and “Engine of a Million Plots” showcases their departure of what made them near and dear to rudies’ hearts.
Notable Tracks: So Far, Battle Dancing Unicorns With Glitter, Someone Else’s Problem