Two years ago, Papa Roach protegés Alien Ant Farm proved nü metal could be funny on purpose with their frisky cover of Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal.” But even as the song began climbing the charts, the band hit a run of bad luck that nearly derailed their career. First, they irritated a nation of punks by reportedly clamoring for a better slot on the famously egalitarian Warped Tour. And a year later, a serious tour-bus accident in Europe left singer Dryden Mitchell with a broken neck.
“Criminal” aside, the band’s debut album,ANThology, got as lost in the shuffle as a platinum album can, but it established Mitchell as a smart, sensitive frontman with a knack for hard-rock hooks. On their new disc, which was produced by Stone Temple Pilots’ Dean and Robert DeLeo, AAF use pop metal as a springboard for some eclectic experimentation. The lazy dub of “Never Meant” doesn’t quite click, but the Latin rocker “Tia Lupe” finds a balance between steamy and silly. Mitchell even kicks a little romantic game on the unplugged standout “Glow”: “I’ll be the fuse that she blows / And even with the lights out we’ll glow.”
Elsewhere, though, they play it safer; the first single, “These Days,” is a harmony-driven rumbler that’s been in the band’s repertoire since before they got signed. The album’s other pre-ANThology composition, “S.S. Recognize,” is a deranged rap-metal screed (“Sit back and walk the plank!”) that probably would’ve been a huge hit if they’d released it during the Durst Administration. The DeLeos’ low-key production–dry guitars, a rhythm section that’s almost jam-band loose–highlights their versatility. But the album feels unfocused, and this time, Alien Ant Farm don’t have a novelty hit up their sleeve. Maybe another Jacko tribute is in order; givenTruANT‘s slightly dated feel, how about “Remember the Time”?