Tooth & Nail Records, despite their Christian affiliation, is one record label that has provided a jumping-off point for some very talented rock artists, with Anberlin and P.O.D. immediately coming to mind. Female-fronted pop metal band Icon for Hire seeks to continue the legacy with its new self-titled album. The band certainly has a sound I really dig, seamlessly blending pop punk, nu-metal, electronic and hip-hop elements all in one big sound. The musicians have the chops, and lead vocalist Ariel definitely has the pipes to create an awesome record. Unfortunately a bland melody problem that I find permeating a lot of records these days drags the album down.
The record opens with a bang. “Cynics & Critics” is a hard-hitting, catchy track that immediately grabs attention. The band's distinct sound is clearly evident here, with electronic samples, Paramore-esque vocals and a driving hard rock riff, in that order. There's even a bit of “rapping” on this track, but it is punk-driven and sassy.
Unfortunately, the album begins to suffer from “sporadic good melodyitis.” There's really nothing inherently wrong with the next four tracks; in fact, the music is quite good. It has a great mix of sounds that really set this band apart, and Ariel's singing is strong throughout. It's just that none of the melody lines hook me.
To me, a song without a good hook is just incomplete. The notion of melody and what is pleasing changes from person to person, but I don't't feel it on a lot of these songs.
“Sorry About Your Parents” is the highlight of the album for me. This song finally delivers an example of what this album could have been. It has a huge chorus and a tone that I can't quite decipher as sarcastic or serious. It's a short and sweet track that is the must-listen for the album.
After another group of songs that, again, have great instrumentation but unmemorable melodies, come “Rock and Roll Thugs” and “Fix Me.”
The former is a great rocking track about the importance of music and has great lyrics - finally a great rock song that talks about the importance of lyrics. It's another standout, with a pulse-pounding chorus and a great breakdown bridge.
“Fix Me” is the ballad of the record, and it starts with a beautiful piano line that catches the ear immediately. Ariel shines on this track, really flexing her vocal muscles and showing her different musical dimensions.
Musically, “Fix Me” a bit one-dimensional, but I actually don't mind because the piano is a welcome change of pace. This track is also the one in which the band becomes most spiritual, with the ending lines of, “Every scar one day will heal/Every tear one day will dry.” It never seems preachy, however, and it's quite a beautiful sentiment on a record with a normal pace as fast as the Indy 500.
Icon for Hire is an album from a band with a great amount of potential - as long as the members touch up some of their songwriting. This album may not deliver as much as I wanted it to, but it certainly packs a hell of a musical punch, and where it shines, it shines bright. Watch out for this band in the future, listeners.