4 out of 5
Label: Ng Records
Produced by: Neil Perry
Because I consider ‘Tragic‘ a pinnacle alt-metal / rap-rockish album, and Pretend I’m Human has a kind of lesser-than rep amongst Orange 9mm’s brief discography – reviews were middling; it seemed to have a troubled run up to release – I was really not expecting much. And since the rapping on prior albums was kind of a weak spot, and that was moreso highlighted here, and since this came with the worrisome tag of being a more “experimental” album, lower those expectations further.
But only this last bit really dogs the album, as the group brings in more electronics and spreads out to less harsh riffing – we get some legitimate singing, less focus on guitars and more on melody – and even this isn’t a bad thing, it just leads to some problematic sequencing with the group trying too much in the album’s midsection, and then some tonal mismatching when they fall back on alt-metal habits, unable to completely ditch it.
Otherwise? This is a visceral disc, with vocalist Chaka Malik absolutely annihilating everything – taking himself to task; hating on the world; absolutely distraught over dysfunctional relationships – via an impressively widened range of stylistic delivery and powerfully lyricism that can be crass, but with purpose. Yeah, he raps more, but without the funky / rap-rock agenda, it’s allowed to flow much more naturally, and he slinks between this and singing and shouting with ease.
Musically, while Neil Perry’s production doesn’t necessarily have the range to bring the experimentation to life, its sharp edges work really well for jumping back and forth between the guitar work and the electronics (compare very favorably to the “warm” mix of the two on Bush’s Science of Things), and these compositions – excepting the alt-metal hanger-on bits – are sincerely an impressive leap forward, allowing songs to breathe and flow in ways that support a catchy chorus but leave room for nuance and surprise. This can err toward being a little precious – Touching Skies is very radio friendly – but it makes for a brave mix of approaches, even if that also leads to the aforementioned sequencing hiccups.
What I’d note here is that all of my criticisms are basically related to the group pushing themselves, and stumbling a bit in the process. So it’s not a perfect album, and still haunted by old habits, but the huge leap in lyrical quality and willingness to try out new sounds – sounds that clearly took work to get to this point, not just done as a lark – make it an incredibly worthwhile listen, and a really mature note for the band to have gone out on.