Title: Heavy is the Head
Label: Spartan Records
Release Date: 12/9/14
Reviewer: Ian Zandi
- You Don’t Mean It
- Where the Pavement Meets the Road
- What’s Good for the King
- The Other Side
- Melanoma Lullaby
- Higher Ground
- Playing With Fire
- What’s Good for the King (Acoustic Bonus Track)
Until about 2 weeks ago, I had never really listened to Sullivan before. I knew they were a former Tooth & Nail emo-rock act and recently reformed to sign to Spartan Records. Taking a brief listen to their recently-released tracks (on MySpace of all places) from this album, Heavy is the Head, I knew this would be an interesting listen. In addition to listening to the review copy of this album, I also preformed my studious review duties by listening to Sullivan’s former albums. They definitely won bonus points from me for referencing The Great Gatsby on “Under the Watchful Eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg” from Hey, I’m a Ghost. I was definitely skeptical going into the album as many emo acts of modern day have taken on overproduced tracks to appeal to “the scene” of Pop Goes Punk, Hot Topic and Warped Tour. Fortunately, that was not the case for Sullivan. Heavy is the Head is very gratifying.
The first track on this album, “You Don’t Mean It” is not very representative of this album as a whole. In fact, there is not really a single track that truly encompasses the entirety of Heavy is the Head. The range of the songs is a wide spectrum from this opening track (a compressed electronic pop-punk opener) to the Jeff Buckley-inspired “Seagrams”, and the dumbfounding paced-track “Statuette”. The genres are not delved into completely, but are certainly enough to keep the album from sounding meddled together.
While there are some very radio-friendly tracks for the masses (“Where the Pavement Meets the Road”, “Profile”, “Pieces”), there are a handful of tracks that take a left-turn for the better. The songs are different songs for different moods but all fit perfectly under the banner of Sullivan while listening to the album as a whole. I personally prefer the idiosyncratic songs such as “What’s Good for the King” and “Melanoma Lullaby”. The former song specifically sounds like a twin companion to the Beatles’ classic psychedelic song “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” (and in turn, The Plain White T’s “Welcome to Mystery”) before bursting into a pop-punk anthem. Though it is a lazy comparison, the song truly evokes the epic feeling of My Chemical Romance’s “Welcome to the Black Parade”. If there are two songs you must get from this release, I would definitely pick these.
The lyrics on Heavy is the Head are harder to decipher than your average emo-punk band. The themes are not overt, but they are definitely there. There is a standout spiritual moment on “Melanoma Lullaby” that exclaims “Dear God, I’m a mess, I have nothing left. I stole all of my charm from the maker’s mill. Do you love me still?” Lead vocalist Brooks Paschal intentionally made the melodies of the songs first and fit the lyrics in secondary (much like Kurt Cobain and Paul McCartney). Brooke made this album akin to a concept album in the fact that many of the songs draw influence from medieval imagery, stories and themes. Many of the upbeat and catchy songs found here are actually quite depressing in nature, being hidden by a mask. Personally, I will latch on to a song based on its melody alone. That is definitely is not a problem with Sullivan as each track is just as infectious as the next.
As I have mentioned before, I am human and I judge things objectively by its appearance. I often prefer to have the album cover within sight while listening to an album to be drawn into a visual-audio experience (vinyl is handy in this case). The album art for Sullivan’s latest is intriguing and gives me the feeling that I am looking into the face of death. Not very creative, but it definitely grabs my attention like a trainwreck (I also drew in a few judgmental reactions from the nearby patrons in the Starbucks I am sitting in right now. Haters gunna hate, hate, hate). The album does lose a few points for looking very similar to Skillet’s less-than-stellar Awake album cover.
Overall: Sullivan is a surprisingly fresh album in the plastic field of alternative emo-rock. The music retains everything we knew and loved about the emo records of the early oughts. Though it may be asking for too much, perhaps this is a sign of a true pop-punk emo revival. Based off of the reaction of this record, Sullivan may or may not tour. If I have any say in the matter, go for it!
RIYL: Taking Back Sunday, My Chemical Romance, Emery, Children 18:3