The Higher – On Fire

The Higher
On Fire

What the fuck … ?!?!?!?!?

No better words can be spoken about The Higher’s On Fire – especially considering that this plate of half-emo, half-Tiger Beat pop was released on Epitaph Records?!?!?!?! Oh man, it’s a sign of the apocalypse.

First off, bonus points to Epitaph for having the balls to believe in a record like this. Yeah, scenesters or whoever can bitch to the moon about how much credibility the label could lose over this record, but someone over there believed in this band, and all of the credit in the world goes to those folk for getting the record to this point.

Don’t mistake that for high praise, however, as On Fire raises a lot of questions as to whether or not this was the right album to go off the deep end for. In tangible terms, think of this record as a patchwork quilt. Without any semblance of exaggeration whatsoever, the quilt would be one part bubble wrap, one part smooth, elegant silk, and one part coarse sandpaper. This stuff’s all over the place.

Are there listenable moments here? For certain, there are! “Rock My Body” will go down as one of the best ‘single-ready’ tracks of 2007 to most folks lucky enough to hear it. Yeah, it’s a clichéd mess lyrically, but the sweet bass and crunchy rhythms crossed with the sweet secondary guitar parts more than make up for that. The body of the song is catchy as hell, and the chorus is damn near anthemic. How good is this song? The last half-minute is nothing but one of those annoying drop-offs where the song breaks down suddenly to just the vocals and the quietest guitar part of the song, and on top of that, the vocals have that annoying pop-muzak vocoder effect on them – and the song STILL FUCKING RULES. It’s that good, no lie.

The sub-two minute acoustic noodle of “Histrionics” uses electronic bass parts, handclaps and some jazzy little gliding guitar chords to make for an energetic listen. “31 Floors” is a pretty intense hand-clap enhanced radio-ready number itself; comparisons could easily be leveled to late 90’s alterna-rockers like Stroke 9 for this track, but this is good stuff regardless.

And, well, the buck pretty much stops there. There’s some other cool stuff here, of course; most of the six-string parts on the record sound fantastic, even if they’re stuck within completely boring material. For example, “Weapons Wired” has some fancy-dancy flamenco guitar parts weaved into it, even though the song itself is pretty limp. Fall Out Boy’s Patrick Stump offers up a totally trippy R&B Ginuwine style remix of a song called “Pace Yourself” that’s more amusing than anything else; following that, there’s a hilarious hidden track with the lyric “I’d rather make you cum than go” that sounds like some bat shit cross between Sugar Ray’s “Fly” and standard boy band fare. Admittedly, the song’s catchy, but it’s cheesy as hell and amounts to nothing more than a giggle inducer in the end.

So far, it’s all dandy and great, but man alive, the rest of this album is basically ignorable. “Guts” isn’t terrible, just boring – just verse, chorus, verse, chorus, verse, chorus based on the same borderline whine and same four crunchy ‘emo’ guitar chords that three hundred other bands used in records that came out the same week as this one. The guitars in album opening “Insurance?” are ace, but the song stalls hard. “Movement” is a dead ringer for “Weapons Wired” without the advantage of the cool flamenco guitars. With the utmost respect, “Can Anyone Really Love Young” sounds like the band just gave up and said, ‘Let’s just try to get a track on a NOW! That’s What I Call Music compilation so we can get some pussy.’

This album is a reviewer’s nightmare because it’s so blatantly schizophrenic that there’s no way to properly address the record as a whole. Pieces of this record are fantastic enough to influence massive bouts of air-guitaring, while other parts are so tragic that it feels like trying to listen to the New Kids on the Block un-ironically. It seems like these guys are trying to be Epitaph’s indie version of Third Eye Blind. The Higher gets crazy respect for putting together something so polarizing, and Epitaph probably deserves some love (and some questioning of sanity) for putting weight behind this. Still, it takes a REALLY open mind to sit and take this record in. Approach with caution, indeed.