It’s Only Natural
Label: Epitaph Records
The Higher sound exactly like their album cover would lead you to believe. While you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, albums are probably the most frequent exception to this rule. Hailing from Las Vegas, the band does everything in their power to keep an image of them as a Killers tribute band alive. At least half the songs on their third album, It’s Only Natural, feature the signature synth squeal and vamping of Brandon Flowers and his bunch. However, it’s obvious this band stopped listening after Hot Fuss; they’ve attempted over three albums to recreate that particular sound, with middling results.
It’s Only Natural suffers from the same pitfall that most power pop bands are guilty of: being by the book. The Higher are a competent band and they write some catchy, hook-laden songs, but singer Seth Trotter comes up with trite sayings like, “I keep telling myself you’re a pathological liar/ But I love to play with fire.” Aside from evoking memories of the forgotten Kevin Federline disaster, the statement is so cliché and inconsistent that it reeks of a forced rhyming scheme.
“Try Again” opens exactly like a power pop album would, with crunching, speedy guitars and Trotter’s voice lamenting over a girl who’s “like an airplane/ Descending on our town.” Melodically, the song is listenable, memorable and starts the album off on a good foot, but the lyrics drag it all the way back down. The album suffers because this tends to be a template for the rest of the album. “Undertaker” sounds like an outtake from a Rob Thomas album and features the traditional power pop exploration of teen-aged angst and Romeo and Juliet complexes, basically serving as little more than a place marker until the next track. It’s also notable for its awful self-boasting, with Trotter remarking how “everybody’s always asking me hey what it’s like to grow up in Sin City/ You can’t hit the strip or the tables dancing/ I’ll be at the club as the main attraction.” Yipes.
The title track stands out because of its energetic synth line, which, to no one’s surprise, sounds like the bastard cousin of “Somebody Told Me.” The percussion pounds the song along like a freight train, and even Trotter’s lame references to being shaken like an earthquake are forgivable when he mentions that the girl in the song “makes [his] pulse race with the 808.” On an album like this, any kind of non-banal rhyming scheme is welcomed with open arms.
It’s Only Natural isn’t terrible; some of the songs are legit. The most notable, “The Black Dress,” features Trotter’s most genuine moments of heartache, while the smooth keyboard and guitar lines hint at possibly exploding along with the drums but never do. The accompaniment keeps restraining its passion and desire, much like the character in the song, and it’s a lovely and tender moment in an album mostly composed of artifice. “Beautiful Coffins” and its attempt to capture the furor of Gerard Way squander all the promise of “The Black Dress.” Like a half-hearted attempt to recreate the vitriol of The Black Parade, the vocalist sings about burning a lover who jilted him, as the electric guitar sample from Fruity Loops charges the track forward.
The Higher are not different enough to be taken seriously, and they’re not offensive enough to be written off completely. They find a radio-friendly balance. The problem is that they’re middling; they do not have a strong enough identity to instigate any real conflict. All of the shoddy lyricism Trotter spills over the album is counteracted by the band’s competent song structures, which makes the album listenable, and not much more. Despite a couple solid songs, It’s Only Natural stands at the worst location an album can be in a catalog: as a placeholder.
by Rafael Gaitan