You can see how Filter might have made a record like this one.
There’s a moment in Filter’s Crazy Eyes where things get uncomfortable. Unfortunately, that moment occurs within the first seconds on the very first track, “Mother E.” If you’re going to isolate the vocals you’d better have some pretty compelling lyrics, and here the album opens on Richard Patrick’s repetitive and inexplicably aggressive whispering of the line “I’ve got my reasons/ And my reasons are sound.” If you’re whispering at all, wouldn’t you be doing it gently? If not, you might as well be yelling—which is what Patrick does for the remainder of the track. It seems therefore that the aggressive whispers are meant to serve to add weight to the contrasting screams. But then, why so forced? He sounds like someone who’s trying to sound crazy. It’s the dramatic equivalent to the villain who explains the plot to his victims. Welcome to Crazy Eyes. It’s a bad start to an otherwise good record—so we’ll get over it.
Patrick, now the only remaining (and arguably the only necessary) member of the band from its original or most prolific form, does have some notable vocal capabilities. As a matter of fact, his unmistakable wailing rasp is what grabbed the world’s attention on Short Bus and held the remaining fans long enough to fund this latest effort on Direct-to-Fan platform PledgeMusic. He’s also incredibly versatile. On 2013’s The Sun Comes Out Tonight, he covered the range of industrial metal to radio-pop all within a single song and he did it all very, very effectively.
Nothing on Crazy Eyes—even “Mother E”—comes close to the white-knuckled rage of “Dose” or “Under.” The latter end of the opening track is certainly as hard as is “Head on Fire,” but its cheeseball ineffectiveness dilutes it. Filter’s songwriting has always worked best buried under layers of distorted guitar effects where you can only hear enough vocal to remind you how fucking angry Patrick sounds. He wails at them so we don’t have to. When the vocals are brought right up front, as they are on “Mother E,” it becomes too readily apparent how contrived this emotional proxy is—who are they anyway?
“Nothing in My Hands” is a direct reference, intentional or not, to Ministry’s “You Know What You Are,” right up to the hook where it becomes a Filter song again. This is an example of Patrick at his best, snarling the vocals and letting the fantastic electro-industrial production do the real heavy-lifting. It no longer matters what he’s saying because you can sit back and mentally smash the imaginary symbols of your daily stresses.
“Pride Flag” and “The City of Blinding Riots” show the bands unquestionable ability to stay relevant. The latter even introduces some new school dubstep and electro flavor, something normally reserved for the remixers. He’s left nothing for them to do here. “Take Me to Heaven” has great single potential and seems constructed for radio play. Here the band shows the same savvy for radio-pop that they showed on earlier records. Every album has its version of Filter’s biggest hit, “Take a Picture,” and though this lacks the same melodramatic bent, this is probably the one with the most mass appeal.
“Welcome to the Suck (Destiny Not Luck)” is the sweet spot. This is where Patrick waivers perfectly between sweet melody and genuinely crazy-sounding plodding and wailing. It’s a shame this didn’t open the record. A glowing ember bursts into a violent fire over and over again and you can’t help but think that, had he stuck to this formula, this album would seriously have been their hardest.
It’s fair to say that Crazy Eyes has a lot more rock and less pop than previous records. The downside is that over the years his fans have become accustomed to the balancing act that Filter is known for. We’ve had a chance to get used to the occasional syrupy, sweet pop songs punctuated by room-shaking distortion and multilayered percussion. It’s definitely their most unrelentingly intense album. A few years ago we might have reacted by questioning whether or not there’s really anything to be outraged about at Patrick’s age. But when you look at the state of things in the United States in 2016, you can see how Patrick might have made a record like Crazy Eyes. He explains it this way: “I’m trying to be as genuine as possible to what Filter is. It’s about sounding fucking different, forward and original.” In that, it’s a success.