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Half the battle when it comes to creating a genuine movement is ensuring that the messages shared can result in tangible change. Or at least, in a band’s case, sparking new ideas in the listener that could one day manifest into the real world through the listener’s inspired actions. In many ways, The Fever 333 try damned hard to ensure that that ideal of unrest and of a movement brewing is coursing throughout their veins at all times. For better and for worse.
However, when it came to their 2018 debut EP, the sub-par ‘Made An America‘, even as someone who personally agrees with their politics, it failed to offer any new or interesting talking points. It just spouted empty platitudes, and is a release I’d now rate much lower than my original 50/100 score. As for the music, it just left so much to be desired. On one hand, the sole hype and love for the release seemed to derive from who was in the band – Jason Butler (ex-Letlive. frontman) Stephen Harris (former guitarist of The Chariot), and Aric Improta (Night Verses‘ drummer) – rather than what the band was actually offering. And as for the actual music, it was a rap/hip-hop infused rock release for people who’ve never heard One Day As A Lion and Run The Jewels; sold to people who idolise Rage Against The Machine as being the greatest band to ever exist. Yeah, Rage were and still are fuckin’ sick, but let’s not shit the bed here, yeah?
Thankfully, The Fever 333’s recently released debut LP, ‘Strength In Numb333rs‘, is actually a good step forward. Well, one that leaves their EP for dead, anyway. Funnily enough, there has actually been a greater strength in numbers here. With ten tracks featured instead of seven, and with some much longer song lengths, The Fever 333 have better realised their sound overall. It’s a release that’s now seeing their musical output starting to catch up with the wide attention and love they’ve received since their conception. And that’s nice to see, though I don’t think we’re entirely there just yet. Still, small steps and all that.
A big thing for me is that everything now feels like a real band. On their EP, it all felt rather cynical. Like the band and producer John Feldman (also producer for this LP) intended for Jason to be the sole star of the show, with the remaining instrumentation and other performances lacking. Uninspired beats, an under-used Yelawolf feature, and over-saturated guitars made a bland background noise against Jason’s vocals. But now, the end-results clearly reveal Stephen and Aric had more time to flex their performance chops and had greater room to move within musically. Which better services the songs too. As it feels like a true collaborative effort between the three-piece, as opposed to Feldman doing everything, Travis Barker coming into record the drums, and Jason being pushed as the only member because he’s the vocalist, has good will left over from Letlive., and is a popular frontman. These three guys are all superbly talented individuals, and this larger sense of songwriting and inner-band tandem sees their music reflecting the trio as a whole instead of just one. As someone who respects each members past work and in loving the other bands that they’ve come from, that’s really encouraging to see.
On top of that, the production is more varied now, so let’s look at some examples. ‘One Of Us‘ kicks off with a choir; angelic choir samples creep in during the pre-choruses of ‘Burn It‘, as do some well-done down-pitched vocals in the bridge; poppy synth pads fly during ‘Inglewood/3‘; and acoustic guitar loops and virtual strings keep things moving on ‘Am I Here?‘. It’s competently made stuff. The arrangements are bigger too, with more layering going on, heavier riffs chugging, bigger gang vocal parts soaring, and harder-hitting choruses burning up – moments that feel like the true peaks these songs deserve. ‘One Of Us‘ being a prime example of this. Well, even if most of these choruses are tonally, vocally and melodically ripped straight from Linkin Park’s ‘The Hunting Party‘.
Regardless, the actual songwriting has grown too. Sure, The Fever 333 still adhere to sampled elements, and rapped/hip-hop verses paired with explosive rock choruses, but they squeeze more out of these tracks. There’s heavier, lower-octave guitars stampeding on ‘Coup D’etalk‘ and ‘The Innocent‘, and there’s some decent synth leads used throughout the album. Jason raps frequently, but his flow is tighter and shows improvement in delivery and how he works this style back into the wider compositions. (See: the second-half of ‘Out Of Control/3‘.) Jason sings more too, and he’s still got a great set of pipes. His screams are even more pissed-off , further lending to the aggressive factor of The Fever 333’s sound. Taking me right back to the earlier Letlive. material in the process, and it’s good to be back in familiar territory. After that aforementioned choir intro in ‘One Of Us‘, for example, we get one of the most piercing screams Jason’s has ever cut in his time. Given his searing vocal takes whilst in Letlive., that’s really saying something. (Want more of that? Check out Jason’s other band, Pressure Cracks).
Songs like ‘Burn It‘ and ‘Out Of Control‘ are solid if harmless tracks that see the group’s rap-rock sound leaning harder upon a Letlive.-like crux. Something I’m quite happy to see, honestly. There’s also plenty of physical energy to these songs, and you just know they’ll be the stepping stone for the trio to pull-off even more high-octane live shows in the future. (Their Download Festival Australia 2019 sets will be very interesting). However, there’s also a couple of duds, and they ain’t getting a free pass.
‘Animal‘ is probably the most average song of the whole record. With a cheesy, radio-rock chorus pumped so full of millennial-whoops and forced sing-alongs that it can barely fucking breathe, it’s a safe-as-hell track. Which is incredibly ironic for a band heavily predicating their music upon being dangerous. The verses are where the fun is at for ‘Animal‘, with Jason’s incendiary rapping and grumbling synth bass lines, but it’s not enough to salvage matters. Closer ‘COUP D’ÉTALK‘ also has no right being the final track, with their being zero weight and a lacking emphasis; it doesn’t leave any kind of lasting impression.
‘Prey For Me/3‘ is a standard track for The Fever 333, with yet another big, catchy chorus and glittering synth washes behind walls of so-so power chords. There’s also a cheesy gun-cock sample heard just before the last chorus, followed up by a gunshot sample, before the song continues on. This would’ve worked better with the “gunshot” being the instruments coming back on the next bar, as it just feels awkward otherwise. ‘Prey For Me/3‘ isn’t great, until about halfway through, that is. At which point, after a brief bass-boosted changeover, things kick into a much higher-gear as Jason declares “you’re not the only one who feels like the only one“. Backed by crazed, scratchy guitars, lethal drum grooves, frenzied vocals, and the record’s most energised full-band chemistry, I’m left completely baffled as to why this second-half wasn’t the full song to begin with. Perhaps their intention was to contrast between the two varying pieces, but all it does is highlight just how inferior that first part is. Chop those first three minutes off and you’ve got an absolute bangin’ track on your hands.
Thematically, and in terms of intent, The Fever 333 try far too hard to make this record something that will rally up unification and create IRL change. Opener ‘…‘ and closer ‘Coup D’etalk‘ begin and end ‘Strength In Numb333rs‘ with the “sounds of change”. What I mean by this is that that opening song is a faux-news report about a fictional demonstration, where a lady pretending to be a reporter asks a protester (Jason) what the world should know about this raucous yet organised movement. To which he responds: “I want them all to know that there’s a motherfucking fever coming!“. Then, on the last song, it wraps up with a broadcast from the frontman about how we will win and how the people’s power and value will be retained in that fight against the powers that be. Look, both instances are just pure cringe; like a proof of concept constantly trying to justify it’s own existence. It feels contrived and artificial, in that sense.
While not a bad record, this Fever 333 LP won’t spark in-the-streets protest nor the mass demonstrations it buffs itself up with. This isn’t the 80’s or the 90’s. The world has changed dramatically since, the role that music plays in society and how art is consumed and viewed nowadays included. So records like this don’t have the same effect and pull they may have had if released two or three decades ago. It sorely wants to be political rock record that sparks real revolution, but it’s forcing the matter rather than allowing it to happen organically.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s causes here that do deserve your full backing. For instance, take ‘The Innocent‘. It’s an unhinged assault on trigger-happy cops and a defence for those who have been unfairly gunned down by law enforcement, especially minorities and POC in America; demanding we say no more to the excuses given for such violent acts. It’s a solid example of a politicised song that maintains focus on the humanity and the real cost of life behind the issue, with the song directly referring to murdered African-American teenagers like Trayvon Martin. However, the same can’t be said for the record overall. You want a well-thought out and rebellious full-length with a great soundtrack to boot? Just listen to that last Algiers record.
‘Strength In Numb333rs‘ is at it’s best when it’s personal, not political. In Letlive.’s time together, Jason has spilled his guts about a great many things in his life; from his very worst experiences, his relationships with family and women, and his own personal beliefs. Yet ‘Inglewood/3‘ is on a whole other level. It details so much about the leading man’s early life. From growing up in low-income areas out in Inglewood, California, his run-ins with the law, his estranged father, experiencing prejudice for his skin colour, battling cancer, and divergent life moments where he almost turned to violence and may have become another deceased or jailed statistic. It’s heavy stuff. Hell, the singer himself puts it best with the lyric: “while you were learning violins, I was learning violence“. It’s a striking telling of his childhood, one that leaves no stone upturned. It’s the emotional focal point of the whole damn record, the deepest track by far.
‘Inglewood/3‘ also doesn’t sound like anything else The Fever 333 has written before either. At first, it taps into a calmer, poppier style with strong synth-pad usage, delicate clean singing, pitched vocal samples, and electro-percussion, keeping to a ballad-like structure. What makes the song truly impactful sonically – in keeping with the personally heavy lyricism – is how the band then slowly but expertly bleed in heavier instrumentation and Jason’s rabid screams over time. So once the final breakdowns are slamming down and the hectic screams of “You want it bad but you ain’t really ready for the (Truth)” are bulldozing over you, it feels like a real journey was undertaken. It feels like something genuine and raw was expressed and then taken right to heart.
Another standout moment is ‘Am I Here?‘, written about Jason’s wife. Much like ‘Inglewood/3‘ before it on the track-listing, it’s something different. Through the lens of an acoustic, synthesised harp and violin-backed ballad, with the album’s cleanest vocal production and most stripped-back singing, it’s a short yet touching love letter to our significant others. To those that stick by us through thick and thin. When the screams and drums kick in near the end, the song becomes it’s own beast. Here, The Fever 333 are showing they won’t be pigeonholed, and I really appreciate that. Hopefully, that ethos follows onto future releases.
While not the revolutionary-sparking movement the band envisioned nor the high-ranking, genre-defying LP many publications have labelled it as, ‘Strength In Numb333rs’ is a decent step forward for The Fever 333. It’s a cut above their ‘Made An America’ EP, that’s for damn sure. However, I’ll be putting on any other Letlive., Chariot or Night Verses record before I again throw on this new Fever 333 album. Though, I do sincerely hope that The Fever 333 can one day change that for me. Maybe next time around?
- Burn It Down
- Prey For Me/3
- One Of Us
- The Innocent
- Out Of Control/3
- Am I Here?
- Coup D’etalk
‘Strength In Numbers’ is out now via Roadrunner Records & Warner Music Australia. Also, does it weird anyone else that the “333” tracks on this record were not the third, sixth and ninth tracks respectively?