It’s crazy to think that of all the bands who made the airwaves sound like a frat house in the early 2000s, that California rap/rock punks Zebrahead are one of those still going strong. In 2000, when they released their seminal Playmate of the Year, it was cool to be juvenile. In a sea of moshpit wannabes and backwards-worn red hats, there was Zebrahead; who unlike some of their contemporaries never took themselves too seriously. They were loud, they liked punk, they liked metal and they liked hip hop. They liked to sing about girls and having fun and it showed in their music. Playmate of the Year, with all of its hooks, catchy goodness and penchant for delinquent humour was in fact, a staple of my juvenile adolescence. The single, about the joys of receiving your copy of Playboy magazine, so you can “make things milky clear”, was one of the many songs blasted constantly from the rooftops of my fraternity house across campus in what can only be described as, “we were dickheads”.
It’s been almost 20 years since and while the major label support may have long gone and many of Zebrahead’s contemporaries are probably in Maroon 5 cover bands, they march on. Often funding and self releasing albums, its clear that they love what they do. Brain Invaders, their 13th(!) studio album doesn’t stray too far from the metal-heavy chugga chugga riffs, soaring choral harmonies and the occasionally rap/rock interlude, but the album is Zebrahead to a ‘T’. Brain Invaders is an absolute blast.
From the opening heavy metal soaked “When Both Sides Suck, We’re All Winners”, the Zebrahead mantra is clear; get on board or get out of our way. Remarkably, vocalist Ali Tabatabaee sounds better than ever, and after the departure of co-vocalist Justin Mauriello and two decades of it mic work, hasn’t lost a step. Whether he’s rapping the verse to “I Won’t Let You Down” or harmonizing choruses in the anthemic “You Don’t Know Anything About Me”, he sounds like he just finished recording vocals back in 2000. Matty Lewis, who replaced Mauriello in 2004, took some time to settle in but he’s completely in-sync with Tabatabaee now. They tap into Blink 182/Sum 41 territory in the pop punk heavy “We’re Not Alright” and get a little introspective in the melancholic punk hip-hop hybrid song “Take a Deep Breath (And Go Fuck Yourself)”. There is rarely a moment the album isn’t drenched in catchy melodic punk sing-a-longs, and there isn’t much time to slow down as the album pummels its way through the 14 tracks with high energy purpose.
So what’s not so great about Brain Invaders? Well, if you’re looking for intellectually stimulating music than you’re probably looking in the wrong place. But one can argue if you’re looking for it with Zebrahead then maybe there’s something wrong with you. It ain’t Rhodes Scholar stuff here, and if you’re not really into never becoming an adult, then you’re probably not going to find much joy with Brain Invaders. And yes, the bong-noises of “Up in Smoke” are a little superfluous, and outside of the Zebrahead formula, there isn’t too much else. But that’s what makes this album great.
In a sea awash with bands who take themselves too seriously, rock music can often seem so very unfun. Zebrahead are the remedy for that malaise. Frat rock may have had its day in the sun, but thanks to Zebrahead it continues to party just below the surface, not-so-quietly