Artist: Gym Class HeroesTitle: As Cruel As School ChildrenRating: 3 StarsReviewed by: Andrew Kameka
Gym Class Heroes (GCH) gave tradition the middle finger with 2005’s Papercut Chronicles, a bold fusion of Hip-Hop and indie-rock. Sounding like left-leaning cousins of The Roots and Fall Out Boy, Chronicles’ live instrumentation and free-wheeling themes earned the four-man group an instant following. Ready to expand on an already diverse sound, the upstate New York natives return to save the day with As Cruel as School Children (Decaydance/Fueled by Ramen).
Firmly rooted in Hip-Hop, the Heroes often branch out into other genres. Their two parts Hip-Hop, one part funk and indie rock concoction plays well on “Shoot Down the Stars.” Backed by a celestial string arrangement, frontman Travis “Schleprok” McCoy raps and sings about his fragile aspirations. Style mixing continues on “New Friend Request,” a digital ditty about computer love. Sliced-horns pierce the beat as Trav downplays his MySpace mack, admitting, “Let’s face it/It’s a sad situation when we have to resort to keyboards as a means of making relations.”
GCH has always been this honest, but the band’s greatest strength is an improved use of melody. They ditch the straightforward approach of Papercut Chronicles, offering a more refined sound for tracks like “Viva La White Girl.” Over a sharp, stuttering beat that can enhance any high, McCoy sings, “The world is yours, so play the role/Blow the dust off the record and put the needle down slow/Our veins are cold, but we’ll never grow old.” Cam’ron employed a somewhat similar drug metaphor for his “White Girls,” but Travis’s double meanings take the comparison much deeper than Killa ever imagined.
Despite their gifts, even superheroes have weaknesses. An occasional shallow streak is kryptonite for the Gym Class boys, evidenced by their dud “Clothes Off!” A flip of Jermaine Stewart’s 80’s hit “We Don’t Have to Take Our Clothes Off,” the song bricks because of sappy lyrics about “playing naked peek-a-boo.” Even the more serious “Biters Block” suffers because of lifeless content. Schleprok attacks carbon-copy MC’s, but he’s not very impressive over a beat that resembles the soundtrack to a second-rate horror-movie.
McCoy and his emo-hop associates clearly mix genres well, but they haven’t quite perfected the formula. Though ambitious and original, As Cruel as School Children is merely a gratifying teaser for when Gym Class Heroes will finally get it right. The band connects Hip-Hop and rock admirably, but the bridge they use is a bit shaky.