(c) 2020 A+R Productions/CMG
- Brace Yourself
- A Long Time Ago In A Galaxy Called LA
- Don't Buy Into It
- Is This The Real World?
- Stuck On Repeat
- Please, Unfriend Me
Ronnie Winter--Lead Vocals, Acoustic Guitar
Josh Burke--Lead Guitar
Randy Winter--Rhythm Guitar, Backing Vocals
Danny Resnick--Keys, Backing Vocals
I will be the first to admit I have always kind of avoided Red Jumpsuit Apparatus purely based on the name. I mean...what the what?! And I know that's terrible of me, because an attitude like that has probably prevented me from hearing dozens of bands that I really would have loved. As I have gotten older, I have been ignoring that inner-urge to discard a band based solely upon its name, and I gave the new RJA release, The Emergency EP a shot. What I got was both surprising...not surprising...and in one instance downright shocking.
What surprised me was just how great this band is musically. Honestly, I would never have predicted the intensity of the drums, the talent of the twin guitar players, or the near-perfectly executed placement of the keys in a position of support rather than out front (which we all annoys the metalhead in me!). The guitar solos here are melodic, if not overly elaborate, and the interplay between Burke and Randy Winter is excellent, with some really strong rhythm guitar work driving several of the songs here, with "Stuck On Repeat" coming instantly to mind. The backing vocals are also spot-on throughout this EP, which really help to support Ronnie's lead vocal approach. And the songwriting for most of the record is equally strong, leading me to wonder why I hadn't checked out this band before...other than the name...or really heard much from them on radio, satellite or terrestrial.
This brings me to what didn't shock me...at all...which is the relatively emo-style of vocal delivery that I got from Ronnie Winter on about 2/3 of the record. There are moments on the EP where he allows an angry edge to creep into his vocals ("Don't Buy Into It" has some of these moments, to be sure), and it is at those times that I find myself really cheering for more of the same. Alas, it typically doesn't last very long, although "Stuck On Repeat" (easily my favorite track here) has less emo drone to the vocal approach, and "Brace Yourself" manages to work around a few weak spots to also be a top-of-the-heap track for me.
Lyrically, the band doesn't make any bold pronouncements of faith on the EP, but they spend a lot of time on social issues, and steer themselves into some controversial territory with "Don't Buy Into It", a song that could find the band alienating some of their more conservative fans. In the very first verse, the band addresses the transgender issue as Winter sings about meeting a boy dressed as a girl whom people (presumably Christians) have told will burn in hell for his/her gender decisions. The song also references the building of the wall between the United States and Mexico, to which Winter encourages "I say build it up so we can tear it down!" on multiple occasions, and he sings in the chorus, "Fear leads to anger to hate," seeming to indicate that anyone who stands opposite Winter's (and presumably the band's) views on illegal immigration are "fearful" and "hateful". The press release for the album states, "As a Christian, Winter's prism of the religion is far more inclusive than what the gatekeepers preach," with Winter himself being quoted as saying, "These are things that really bother me--with this EP I'm bringing fans to the next level." The "things" he is speaking of are LGBTQIA+ issues and the Black Lives Matter movement. While there is growing support in many Christian communities for the LGBTQIA+ issues, hitching one's wagon to BLM is a dangerous move, in my estimation, as I don't know of very many groups...and NO Christian groups...who advocate the wanton vandalism, property destruction, assault, and even murder that have become hallmarks of that group, and for Red Jumpsuit Apparatus's lead vocalist to state his backing of the movement is going to be a BIG "off switch" for many people.
The band proves elsewhere that they can focus on positivity without becoming controversial. On the track, "Is This The Real World?" the band does a far better job of interjecting thought into social issues as they as they encourage people to seek truth rather than simply believing what they read and hear on-line and from the media. Album opener, "Brace Yourself" has become something of an anthem for First Responders and Emergency Support Workers, with a portion of the sales from the single actually going to benefit families of these extremely important people. Check out that track below:
For me, five of the six songs here are of above average quality, and all are up-tempo, which helps drive the EP home in relatively quick fashion. The musicianship, as I mentioned before, is of a surprisingly high level, and I have to admit to being very surprised when I read that all of the songs except closer, "Please, Unfriend Me" were actually written and recorded in the back of the band's tour bus while on the road last year. As to "Please, Unfriend Me", that track was recorded using technology while the band members were in Covid lockdown earlier this spring. The best tracks are bunched at the end, with "Stuck On Repeat" and "Is This The Real World" being the biggest winners of the bunch, with "Brace Yourself" the top choice of my 8 year old, who seems to sing it non-stop. I also enjoy "Please, Unfriend Me" quite a bit, as well. "Don't Buy Into It" isn't a horrible song musically...not by a long stretch...but I just can't get behind the "think my way" political agenda that Winter seems to be aiming at band fans that don't see things through the same lens he uses. As to "A Long Time Ago in a Galaxy Called LA", while it isn't a terrible song, I just don't feel it...at all. Seemingly a love story (perhaps Ronnie Winter and his wife's story?), the song is just too cheesy for me and I honestly skip it just about every time I have a free finger while driving down the road.
All in all, I was impressed with the band's talent and the catchiness of the majority of the songs here. I do wish we had a bit more solo work from Burke whose guitar has a definite melodic quality to it that I really enjoyed, and I would love to hear more bite and edge from Winter's lead vocals, especially when the emo whine seems to come on to strongly, but overall I'm pretty happy with my introduction to the band. I may even seek out the band's previous efforts, some of which I have been told has more hardcore and punk influences, and I will definitely keep an eye and ear out for future releases. That being said, if the band becomes more even political and starts to swerve further into social justice warrior territory, I highly doubt they will find a fan in me, as there is plenty of that to be found in both mainstream and social media, so I don't need it in my musical choices.
Rating: Rock this at 6.5. Musically, I'd give it a 7.5, but the EP's brevity, the band's politics, and the emo stylings of much of Winter's vocals do some damage to my introduction to what is obviously a musically talented band.