Crooked Teeth, the ninth studio album from Californian hard-rock outfit Papa Roach, is an odd little record – and it is a little record, consisting of only 10 songs and lasting just over half-an-hour. There’s nothing inherently wrong with a brief duration or a short track-list, if a record is tight and focused, but when the tone and the mood moves around as abruptly as it does on Crooked Teeth, it’s hard not to become a little disoriented.
Opener, Break the Fall, along with lead single and titular track, Crooked Teeth, flag a return to the nu-metal sound that drove the group’s initial success in the late ‘90s and early 2000s. Unfortunately this return to their sonic roots doesn’t manage to transcend the negative stereotypes of the much maligned – often unfairly so – subgenre, as the songs feature angsty, overwrought, lyrics and vocal delivery, coupled with bland instrumentation. That being said, Born for Greatness is catchy, and features just enough contained emotion to ensure it is the go-to backing track for sport montages and advertisement.
It takes half of the album before Papa Roach begin to display their potential as a band, and while American Dreams doesn’t quite tick all the boxes, its exploration of the dark realities of “the American dream” set against a solid pop-rock sensibility is pleasing. Help expertly blends acoustic and electric guitars for a discussion of mental illness, while Sunrise Trailer Park demonstrates a narrative dexterity that is sadly missing from most of Crooked Teeth. Rapper Machine Gun Kelly doesn’t add a great deal extra to the latter song, but the use of another singer to provide a second point-of-view to the narrative greatly increases the song’s effectiveness.
Despite a few moments of deft lyricism or musicianship, Crooked Teeth is too full of mediocre or incongruous moments – such as inclusion of a straight up pop song in Periscope (which features Skylar Grey), or the bipolar musicality of Traumatic – to provide anything more than a passing distraction.