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Gym Class Heroes have always been all over the place musically, wearing their myriad influences on their collective sleeve.
On “The Papercut Chronicles II,” out Nov. 15, the same aesthetic applies. While Travie McCoy’s spoken vocals dominate, pop, R&B, hip hop and aggressive rock all splice together, often on the same track.
The results are mixed, but one thing is clear: what works best for Gym Class Heroes is their tried-and-true method of cannily bringing in someone with singing chops that are in direct contrast to McCoy’s rapping. First single, clever “Stereo Hearts” featuring Maroon 5’s Adam Levine works perfectly and has provided the band with one of its biggest hits in its 14-year career. That yin and yang approach has proven a good call for the band on the past, especially on such tunes as the poignant “Live Forever” featuring McCoy’s hero Daryl Hall from 2008’s “The Quilt” or on 2006’s “Cupid’s Chokehold,” which blended McCoy’s gruff rap with Patrick Stump’s delicate take on Supertramp’s “Breakfast in America” (or, of course, McCoy’s solo success with Bruno Mars on last year’s “Billionaire.”)
In addition to “Stereo Hearts,” the best tracks here are the sloping “Life Goes On” featuring Oh Land, whose sugary singing provides the same pleasing musical opposition as Lily Allen does on T-Pain’s “5 O’Clock” or way back when, when Eminem sampled Dido’s “Thank You” on “Stan.” Also a winner is the inspirational “The Fighter” featuring OneRepublic’s Ryan Tedder, sounding sweeter and clearer than he ever does on his own records.
The album is a sequel of sorts to 2005’s “The Papercut Chronicles.” There is not a song-for-song correlation, although “PCll” opens with the same mechanized voice on “Za Intro” as the original and includes an update on that album’s “Kid Nothing vs. the Echo Factor” called “Kid Nothing vs.the Never-Ending Naked Nightmare.” In an interview with MTV, McCoy said the new album was so named because “it’s definitely going back to the essence of Gym Class Heroes, which is four dudes sitting in a room, vibing off each other and making organic, dark metal.” We’re not so sure about the “metal” part, but it sounds like he also wanted to encourage fans to try and forget about “The Quilt,” which was not a strong performer for the band.
Though it’s easy to dismiss Gym Class Heroes as a party band based on their singles, that’s discounting a side of the group that is very prominent on “PCII.” Whether it’s because McCoy has entered his 30s or what ever sundry reason, there’s lots of angst on the tracks and questions about the bigger picture. On “Holy Horses**t, Batman!!,” McCoy addresses the question of God in a track that veers from rap into a searing guitar solo, with a stomping drum track.
Other tracks disassemble his ongoing romantic problems. On “Ass Back Home” featuring Neon Hitch, he and his girlfriend are dealing with a few issues, but the state of the union is relatively strong. But by the next song, “Nil-Nil Draw,” things have been torn asunder whether it’s because of her period (really?) or her anger issues. As he not-so-chivalrously notes, “You were too dumb to understand/I could have any girl, but I still chose you.” What girl could resist that?
Though the drama works on some tracks, on dense, album closer “Kid Nothing vs.the Never-Ending Naked Nightmare,” he’s working out some childhood traumas and the accompanying bombast ends the album on an unnecessarily jarring note. Though the anxiety-ridden feelings don’t come out of the blue for anyone who’s actually listening to the lyrics on some of the lighter-sounding tunes, such rantings are probably better saved for McCoy’s therapist’s couch.