This is not going to be easy. I have known [artist id="2402281"]Cobra Starship[/artist] frontman Gabe Saporta for a long time, we e-mail frequently, and I genuinely think he is a good guy. When I first started dating my wife, she lived in an apartment below bassist Alex Suarez (and for a minute, I actually considered moving in with him and his roommate). Keytarist Victoria Asher and I have shared several awkward silences in green rooms across the northeast (probably because I wrote stuff like this about her). I am thanked in the liner notes for their Viva la Cobra! album, right in between “Lisa Lauricella” and “Johnny Hockim.”
It is entirely possible that I am too close to Cobra Starship … which means that remaining objective about them or their musical output borders on impossible. So, like I said, this is not going to be easy.
A few weeks back, Saporta and Suarez brought me their new album, the suddenly much-anticipated Hot Mess, and played it for me. As such, I am obligated by music-journo law to write an obtuse sorta-review of the thing … the kind of piece where objectivity is (in theory) paramount. And that’s where I’m gonna get in trouble. Because Hot Mess is genuinely great.
There’s really no other way to put it. This is pitch-perfect future pop, the kind that takes the delights of yesterday and turns them into the hits of tomorrow. From the opening laser-blasts and sirens of “Nice Guys Finish Last” (a song that recalls Garry Glitter’s “Rock and Roll Part II” and Adam Ant’s “Goody Two Shoes”) to the mega-synths and Michael Bay-size choruses of current hit “Good Girls Go Bad” and the title track (which kinda sounds like a supercharged version of Herbie Hancock’s “Rockit”), it’s an album of flashy hooks and retro-leaning flourishes, one that’s also incredibly indebted to the stuff of today — to the shiny Swedish pop of Max Martin, the bloggy missives of Pete Wentz and the hip-hop hits of Hot 97.
In other words, this is the album Cobra Starship were born to make. There is no other band on the planet that is as much a byproduct of everything that came before them — or as much a direct response to everything immediately after — than Saporta and company, and Hot Mess is what happens when they decide to lose all inhibitions and simply fling it all against the wall. Surprisingly, most of it sticks.
Which is how we get tracks like “Fold Your Hands Child,” a decidedly low-key (for them, anyway) number that starts off as a pretty mix of melodies and churning synths and builds into an unabashed fist-pumper. Or “Move Like You Gonna Die,” which is thrashy guitars and breakneck live drums one minute, pseudo raps and “Smoke This Dancefloor! One Two Three Four!” commands the next. Or “You’re Not in on the Joke,” a song that features an 8-bit intro lifted from “Pole Position,” pure Saporta singing in a falsetto-ed Decaydance delivery, blippy electronics, some piano and backing growls from someone who may or may not be Wentz himself (hint: it is).
That it all works is as much a credit to Cobra Starship as it is to the enviable team of collaborators they assembled to make it (Kevin Rudolf, Kara DioGuardi, Benny Blanco, S.A.M. and Sluggo), but I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that, for the first time, CS seem less like Saporta’s vehicle and more like an actual band, as evidenced by accomplished, multifaceted tracks like “Living in the Sky With Diamonds,” which references Hall & Oates’ “Maneater” in the lyrics but also rocks a Strokes-y guitar line, or album-closer “The World Will Never Do,” a dubby bouncer that features a cameo from Atlanta oddball B.o.B.
Of course, given that this is Cobra Starship, it’s not all academic. There’s also plenty of focus on getting down and getting wasted, tons of mentions of dance floors and blurry nights, punch-ups and breakdowns, because, really … it’s Cobra Starship. That’s what they do. And perhaps that brings up the biggest point in all this: Hot Mess is a really great album. It’s definitely a leap forward for the band. It’s smart and funny and fun. Yet, because Cobra Starship made it, the album probably won’t be embraced by the music-journo community that would probably love it if they gave it a chance. That’s a shame, but it’s sort of inevitable.
Of course, don’t think for a second Cobra Starship don’t realize this already. Or that they care. It takes a special kind of self-awareness to make an album like Hot Mess, the same kind that makes Saporta dress like a DayGlo grunge god and the same kind that drives the band to name songs “Pete Wentz Is the Only Reason We’re Famous.” It’s sorta brilliant, really. And so is their album. But don’t take my word for it — after all, I’m friends with the band.
Questions? Concerns? Hit me up at BTTS@MTVStaff.com.