Posted by: Necci – Sep 24, 2012
Gentlemen's Brawl is the second album from Florida band Broadway, and their first in three years--apparently due to issues with production, the album was delayed by over a year and a half. The extended break certainly gave them long enough to change their sound quite a bit, and at first listen, it seems that they have done so. However, there's a significant sonic unity between their two albums; what really divides them is the fact that Broadway have changed just enough to move from one genre to another. Where their debut, Kingdoms, was clearly of the same post-hardcore/progressive-emocore stripe as bands like Hopesfall and Chiodos, Gentlemen's Brawl lands closer to the pop-punk/melodic hardcore hybrid sound of Fireworks or Set Your Goals. This difference might throw longtime fans of the band, but once they adjust to the new sound, it will become clear that Broadway are just as good at their new sound as they were at their old one--if not better.
Kingdoms featured a lot of chunky, metallic riffing, and while it did feature a good bit of lead guitar work, actual melodies were usually left to vocalist Misha Camacho, whose choice to sing almost entirely in a high, clear tone was the main factor making the songs on Kingdoms sound more like emo than metalcore. With the lion's share of the melodic content coming from his vocals, Camacho had a tendency to go all-out with his vocal parts on Kingdoms, hovering in an extremely high register for most of the album that made him sound almost like the emo version of King Diamond. While he was always at least an octave or so lower than the famed Mercyful Fate vocalist's operatic falsetto, Camacho often sounded a bit inhuman on Kingdoms. His high notes took on a sonic quality similar to the gleam of polished chrome or brushed steel, making him sound a bit like an android. In point of fact, the first time I heard Kingdoms's first single, "Same Thing We Do Everyday Pinky," I hated Camacho's voice. However, the rest of the song was a pleasurable enough listen that I found myself unwillingly drawn back for repeat listens. Eventually I got used to Camacho's voice and fell in love with Broadway's debut album as a whole, but the entire process took over a year to take place, and if I hadn't been willing to give what I at first regarded as a decidedly less than perfect album multiple listens, it would never have happened at all.
The difference on Gentlemen's Brawl starts with the riffing. For whatever reason, the departure of second guitarist Jack Fowler, leaving Broadway a four-piece, seems to have taken the band in a less metallic direction, and the result is apparent in songs that feature much more overt melodies written directly into the guitar parts. The resulting decrease of Camacho's need to supply the entirety of a song's melody through his vocal parts leads to a more restrained use of his higher register. It wouldn't be true by any stretch of the imagination to say that his singing is low-pitched anywhere on Gentlemen's Brawl, but he does sound a lot more human for the majority of the album, and the frequency of middle-register vocal segments both increases the album's singalong potential and makes the high-pitched parts that show up a bit less off-putting. The lyrics on many of the album's songs help to give it a relatable human quality as well. Opening track "Party At Sean's House" begins with a cheery greeting: "Hey what's up, how are you? It feels so good to be back. Oh geez, I missed all you kids." While the song's narrative eventually indicates that this opening greeting is directed towards friends in the band's hometown, a later mention of three years having passed only further solidifies the idea that Camacho is talking directly to the listener here. The chorus provides an ebullient, anthemic singalong: "It's 4 AM and I'm the only one sober--my friends are dancing on the living room sofa." It's hard not to smile at such a mental picture, and the song's upbeat, catchy riffing only increases the happiness quotient. At the same time, some subtle references to the difficulties of making a living playing music add an undercurrent of bittersweet emotion.
"I Am Not A Rockstar" stands out as one of the catchiest songs on the album--its aggressively poppy riffing and the brilliant earworm of its sugary chorus seem perfectly crafted to grab a listener immediately. While Broadway's riffing is usually both subtler and more complex than that of "easycore" bands that I mentioned earlier, "I Am Not A Rockstar" is a straight-down-the-middle shot at the sort of blatantly catchy riffing that you might expect from relatively mainstream acts like All American Rejects or even Fall Out Boy. This is both intentional and ironic--from the very first line, it's clear that this song is a parody of the sort of shallow fashionites that represent the worst aspects of the whole materialistic Warped Tour scene. "I straight-ironed my hair--it took me about 10 minutes to get my tight pants on," Camacho sings, assuming the identity of a secretly-insecure poser who needs constant ego-massaging to feel good about himself. The characterization takes on a bitter edge when he continues, "Sorry, I only talk to chicks that are underage." The jabs here, while not aimed at anyone in particular, are just pointed enough to have a real bite. But meanwhile, the song itself is impossible to deny, and never more so than when the chorus hits and Camacho ironically expresses a sentiment opposite to that of the song's title. "I am a rockstar!" he sings, his voice soaring, then adds: "...according to me." Let me assure you, this chorus will spend entire days stuck in your head--undoubtedly leading to the potential embarrassment of walking down the street or through the grocery store singing "I am a rockstar!" under your breath. The parody lyrics and uncomplicated catchiness of the music might be a bit much for some people to accept, but honestly, this is one of the best pure pop songs I've heard in a long time, and I'll bet even the people who profess to hate it get it stuck in their head on a regular basis.
There are quite a few other amazing songs here. The album-ending title track, which incorporates a speedy one-two hardcore beat on its verses that Broadway would never have attempted three years ago, features another unforgettable chorus that pairs a chunky, metallic guitar riff with an excellent vocal melody. Then there's the inspiring positivity of "There's No Crying In Baseball" ("Don't quit, not now! [...] In life, you can't come in last place"), the My Chemical Romance-style epic "Lawyered," and the layered lead guitar melodies of "Faster Faster." Kingdoms, which was generally quite good, wrecked its flow with an overwrought piano ballad called "AWOL" (I can't be the only Broadway fan who runs for the skip button when that song starts), but fortunately, the closest Gentlemen's Brawl comes to such a thing is "Medication," a slightly slower and more melancholy tune that nonetheless sounds very similar to the rest of the album, and is of roughly equal quality. Really, there are no songs here that I'd single out as being skippable.
It's true that Gentlemen's Brawl is somewhat of a new direction for Broadway. However, if anything, it's significantly less of an acquired taste than Broadway's previous work was. With Misha Camacho's toned-down singing style decreasing the potential for unfavorable initial reactions, and the more overtly melodic song structures resulting in more immediately catchy riffs than anything Broadway have written in the past, Gentlemen's Brawl has the potential to bring them to the attention of a wider audience. Both brand new listeners and longtime Broadway fans who give this album a chance will find that there's a lot to like here.
By Andrew Necci