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Slow down as you approach the gate, and have your change ready....
Label: 5 Minute Walk
Time: 13 tracks/ 42.8 minutes
As I witnessed the final moments of Five Iron Frenzy’s last concert here in Colorado, the thought of Reese Roper (the former front man of FIF) hitting the road with another band and a new album was merely a question blowing in the wind. Less than a year later, Reese is at it again and hasn't seemed to miss a beat.
It’s as if Reese has raised Five Iron Frenzy from the dead, except this time around he picked up new band members, dropped the horns, and grabbed the synthesizer. Roper, the new band mothering Reese’s signature vocals, sounds similar to Reese’s other project, Brave Saint Saturn, but more upbeat. Brace Yourself for the Mediocre is the band’s debut album and will rock your socks off, whether you are a Five Iron fan or not.
Before I got the album, I had the opportunity to see Roper live at a local venue. I was anxious to see whether Reese could pull it off again - that is, forming a band that gets the same enthusiastic response from the crowd as he had with FIF. Not only did Roper’s live performance meet the fans’ expectations (I’m generalizing based on observation and conversations), it exceeded them! The same goes for the album. Reese took the energy and excitement from the albums of Five Iron and successfully poured it into Roper. From beginning to end, Roper whips out great song after great song. “Hello Lamewads” starts the album off with a punch and, if you haven’t already braced yourself, the rest of the album might knock you off your feet.
Roper covers the full spectrum of lyrical content – very silly to very serious (typically Reese for ya). The band includes humorous songs, like “You’re With Stupid” and the cover of Shania Twain’s “You’re Still the One” (it's actually quite good if you look past the fact that Reese is singing a mega-hit country song), while other songs are saturated in meaning and Christian principles. In the past, Reese has made very powerful ballads that have impacted the spiritual lives of many people (like Dandelions or Every New Day), and Roper is walking in the same direction. "Amplify", for example, challenges people to loudly proclaim Jesus as Lord of their lives.
One of Roper’s most incredible pieces is the final song on their album, “In Excelsis Deo,” which also happens to be the song they ended their concert with. Don’t be fooled, this is not the Christmas carol – this is a powerful song the combines a strong tune with touching lyrics, all powered by Reese’s remarkable vocals:
This wooden soul of mineIn little time, Roper will be touring with big-name Christian bands, prices for Roper merchandise, and CD’s will most likely skyrocket, and you’ll have to get concert tickets from fancy booths that make you pay a ridiculous service charge. In other words, if Reese sticks with this new project, Roper will most likely be a huge success. If you dislike FIF, there’s a chance you may not like this album, considering that Reese incorporated a lot of similar styles/techniques into Roper’s music. But if you love Five Iron’s music or are the slightest bit interested in what Reese is cooking up, then brace yourself, because Reese Roper is back with passion, creativity, and a new band that is ready to rock your world.
Sarah Verno 12/28/2004
There’s more to Roper than is obvious. The All Music Guide classifies the band under the broad category of Gospel. Yet, to these ears, it’s maximum punk pop that is punching through the speakers with tracks like "Hello Lamewads" and "You’re With Stupid!"
Despite the pervading dumbing down images thrown into the CD sleeve, the website, and in lyrics like “Cross yourself for the Virgin Mary/Don’t turn your back on a mercenary” ("Red Eye to Miami"), in truth, Roper is a fairly sophisticated outfit, and it's musicality is never in question as the pristine tunes, sweet harmonies, and spot-on reference points raise Brace Yourself For The Mediocre, well above average.
Don’t let the band’s age fool you: though this five-piece has only been together for a little over a year, they are no strangers to the world of rock and roll. As an astute observer might have guessed, Roper is the brainchild of ex-Five Iron Frenzy front man, Reese Roper. On Brace Yourself For The Mediocre, Reese has assembled an all-star cast to assist him on his debut venture. Combined, the members of Roper have played nearly one thousand shows in multiple countries, recorded fourteen full-length albums on nationally distributed labels, been on the Billboard 200, and shared the stage with big-name rock acts such as: Yellowcard, Switchfoot, Relient K, MxPx, Less Than Jake, and the Dismemberment Plan. Needless to say, these guys have a lot of experience under their collective belt.
But band accomplishments aside, the people who will be most excited about this release are the Five Iron Frenzy fans: the kids – young and old – who have been inspired by Reese’s passionate vocals, the awkward teens who could relate to Reese’s humorous, self-depreciating lyrics, and those who bought FIF’s final album wondering what would become of this band’s members. And now, after a year of wondering, the wait is over.
So how does Reese’s solo endeavor fare? Unfortunately, not as well as Five Iron Frenzy fans – this writer included – might have hoped. Where Five Iron Frenzy prided themselves on being innovative and original musicians in the midst of the dying ska trend, it seems Roper is content with playing song-after-song of derivative four-chord pop-punk. In fact, most of the songs sound so much alike that after a few listens, it begins to feel like the tracks blend together. This is partly due to the rather boring verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus structures that are used and re-used throughout the album. It is also due to the fact that Reese, it seems, has once again hitched his proverbial wagon to a trend that is dying fast. Had this been released a few years ago in the golden era of pop-punk, there would have been hundreds of angst-ridden misfits clamoring to get their hands on this, however, as the trends have shifted, pop-punk is quickly losing its momentum.
That said, Brace Yourself For The Mediocre isn’t completely bad: the disc does have some redeeming qualities. Reese’s vocals are as strong as ever and are one of the few ingredients that set Roper apart from their pop-punk predecessors. After all these years, he still makes singing sweeping anthems, from raspy lows to soaring highs, look easy. The songs, though not too different from one another, are incredibly catchy. Alongside the sugar-coated pop hooks and memorable melodies, Reese also manages to throw in some monosynth riffs, which add to the catchiness but probably should have been a little louder in the overall mix.
Ironically, the album’s title is the best way to describe this release. The songs are too catchy and fun to be completely ignored, yet they are also too cliche and unimaginitive to be hailed as a masterpiece. There are some ingenious lyrics; there are some cheesy lyrics. There are some exciting tracks; there are some boring tracks. If you are a fan of bands like the Get Up Kids and the Reunion Show, then you will probably enjoy these songs for a few listens (if you like one; you will like them all). And if you are a fan of Five Iron Frenzy, you may want to pick this album up for nostalgia’s sake. Either way, if you plan on picking up Brace Yourself For The Mediocre, be warned that the title is somewhat telling of what you are getting yourself into.
Phil Nichols 1/9/2005