Album: Nine Lives
Label: Five Seven Music
Format: Physical and download LP
I had quite a long think about whether or not to review this album. Then I had a longer think about whether to include lyrics or links to videos. The thing that bothered me was that often media outlets try a ‘blackout’ for really offensive artists in the hope of crushing their success but realistically, the Deuce/Hollywood Undead PR machine goes a long way further than not reviewing this can stop. The album is being bought (11,425 copies in its first week) and I have yet to see a ‘proper’ site discuss it. It doesn’t make it go away to avoid it and driving it into the niche echo-chambers inhabited by Hollywood Undead obsessives means you could still think this is just a harmlessly naff record liked by teenagers.
Before you proceed- this does reproduce some of the lyrics, which contain triggers for sexual assault.
In my time, I have listened to some really terrifyingly bad music. I’m a reviewer and have been for ten years so that’s to be expected but so have you- from sixth-form local bands to that Staind album enough of us bought copies of to make it platinum across the globe, to Asher Roth, to utterly unlistenable noise-barrage that actually was just utterly unlistenable, not ‘super brutal’ whatever your teenage self thought.
It tends to be the case, if you’re listening voluntarily rather than because you’ve been assigned it for the week, that the worse music is the more you find yourself accidentally caught up in a lot of vitriol about it. This is no doubt some kind of primal subconscious response to make you learn an important life lesson after you spend three weeks declaring [Your New, Terrible Favourite Band] the best thing ever and that everyone who listens to anything else is a misbegotten fool, loudly and at great length while tattooing their name on your foot and dropping out in order to follow their tour: that you are as fallible as any other human being.
This particular fervor tends to occcur at pivotal and exciting points in your life such as ‘being fifteen’ and for whatever reason, offensive music is extremely appealling. Which is all the only possible reasoning I can find for the fact that money has been spent on producing, let alone pressing and distributing this, the first album that’s ever made me feel physically ill.
Deuce is a rapper, formerly of much-reviled rap-rock group Hollywood Undead. When Hollywood Undead first appeared the contrarian in me investigated as to whether they were any cop and discovered that they were essentially 3OH!3 with masks on and surely couldn’t be serious/last long. The performance about spending two years finding a label who ‘wouldn’t censor them,’ (as though a frat party dressed for trick-or-treating was likely to be oppressed for their political stance) and other ephemeral nonsense were all part of the generally lazy malaise they constituted and I stopped checking the cover of Kerrang! magazine long enough to not even realise they were still going.
Bad news: they are. Worse news: they kicked Deuce out, citing creative and personality differences- apparently Deuce wanted to go further, lyrically. Arguably, this could have been seen as a desire to move beyond lines like “when I start drinking, my d*ck does all my thinking” onto heavier topics like, oh, I don’t know, ‘literally anything else.’
Despite the usual back-and-forth between the remaining band members and Deuce, the existing Hollywood Undead fanbase eagerly anticipated the release of this- Deuce has claimed he was the creative force behind Hollywood Undead and after an apparent fanbase disappointment at their latest output, this was supposed to be a revival. Which I guess it is, if you took the sum of all the most awful parts of an awful band and turbocharged their ego.
When I say that Nine Lives is a bad album, I don’t just mean that the music is weak or embarassing, I mean that it is vomit-inducing. For baseline, I love the Pusha-T verse of Kanye’s Runaway; plenty ho’s in the balla-n*gga matrix is a fantastic line in a flock of self-hating, projected nastiness and the entire song is one of the most spectacular, navel-gazing displays of unpleasantness ever. Why is it ok? Well, for all the hubris Kanye actually seems to know himself quite well, on record and certainly knows how to make himself sound good, not in the sense of being appealling but in the sense of making his quite average voice sound incredibly compelling, even when he tries some potentially ill-advised singing. The craft of the song doesn’t override his ego but works with it, flattering both.
Equally, some of my favourite lines of last year were from Wiz Khalifa- “got a call from my jeweller this just in: b*tches love me cuz I’ll f*ck ’em with their best friends/not a lesbian but she a freak though/come stay for one night I’m shining all week ho”. He delivers it with the childish enthusiasm of someone who’s never tried to coordinate a threesome, with all the gleeful optimism that it will be any good at all if it does happen.
I’m quoting these lines for context; I don’t want anyone reading this to think “Oh yeah but the CLR is a highbrow publication that wouldn’t talk about obscene rap music, which I irrationally consider necessarily lowbrow” -firstly because it’s not true, secondly because I love obscene rap music and thirdly because as the Kalenna album linked to there shows, there’s absolutely nothing about shocking, explicit music going directly for an aggressive, disturbing effect that has to be anywhere near lowbrow. In fact, it really has to be the opposite.
Which is a paragraph it’s a shame Deuce clearly hasn’t read. I’m actually almost tempted not to link to the songs from Nine Lives because they’re so repellent but in the name of reviewer’s objectivity and fairness, here’s the intro and the first chorus of LP opener “Let’s Get It Crackin”
All the girlies with the pretty little panties/Turn around, let me smack both them ass cheeks
Throw your cups up if you’ll get nasty
Ooh, damn girl, you’re lookin’ real fancy/Girl, come on Deuce’s lap, I got free candy
Throw your cups up, we’re gonna get nasty
Let’s get it crackin’ bottles/we back in town, we’re so plastered/so meet her in the bathroom
She just turned 18, she calls me baby/cuz she’s been waitin’ all night to rape me
(And here’s a link to the video, with a big NUDITY WARNING over it. Not even good nudity, in case that tempted you.)
No, no- those are actually the lyrics. Unbelievably, the chorus is repeated again and again and those aren’t even the grossest lines in the song, which actually gets worse from there, with broke a hole in her b*tt while suckin on her t*tties, that’s fun cus I can do all three at once (declining numeracy standards, there) delivered in Deuce’s faux-screamo whine.
White rappers, man. They’re embarassing. I had thought, after the rise of the brilliant Yelawolf, there was a decent chance that that streak would stop and a more considered approach, angry but from the same vein as Sole or Atmosphere, rather than Asher Roth, would come to the fore; I don’t mean Drake-style whining, for which there are plenty of white examples but music that stood alone as hip hop and didn’t either invoke an image of a frat party blasting 50 Cent or the genre that ought to work but so incredibly rarely does, ‘rap rock’ delivering whining rants about being grounded or not having a yacht.
The thing that’s thrown at white rappers, always, whether it’s early, snotty Eminem or the towering, sophisticated rage of Yelawolf or the next big thing, is that they’re ‘trying to be black.’ Often, it’s a goofy criticism- you don’t have to be black to like rap and a lot of people try to make music in the style they’re in to. There is a certain stigma about it still (partly in response to the incredible whiteness of a lot of other dominant genres of music) but the mainstream critical line on it is that the question is becoming less interesting. It’s usually an embarassed aside in interviews, thrown in almost apologetically but no longer considered a controversy in itself.
Deuce has decided to singlehandedly attempt to roll all this back. He opens “Help Me” with a racially confused triplet-
I’m the George Bush of this rap sh*t,
You can tell Randy Jackson to kiss my black ass,
I’m the white Obama b*tch,
So just in case you hadn’t got that he wants to be pointlessly offensive, he’s cementing a triple threat; misogyny (no doubt attemptedly rebuffed by the fact he’s got prize idiot Jeffree Starr on several tracks) and now some kind of clumsy racism wrapped up as the world’s worst attempt at political relevance.
Having previously mentioned 50 Cent and Drake; there are some terrible black rappers, too. And some terribly successful terrible black rappers. Even Fiddy has never sunk to the depths of this album though. In 50 Cent’s world he’s a pimp- he’s got no flow, he’s offensive and his music depresses me (apart from “In Da Club”, which remains solid gold) but he never drops the bravado- every song is in the pimp persona, which whether you like it or not, is at least consistent. You’d think Deuce’s non-metaphorical mask would be similarly fixed in place.
But no, of course it isn’t. The great thing about self-fixated performers like Deuce (and I say ‘great’ with as much sarcasm as the internet can inject) is that they cannot resist the desire to slip into navel-gazing drivel. Sometimes this works- I brought up Kanye before- but sometimes they pick topics that slide well into the ‘ludicrous’ zone.
Part of the backstory of Nine Lives (which has expanded beyond the album to a fashion range stocked in perma-yuck American Apparel and it’s also apparently some sort of worldwide movement of naffness) is that Deuce got stuck in contract to a record label who wouldn’t release his music. They wanted to censor it, which if you’ve heard it is hardly surprising and they presumably suggested he make something halfway decent if they were going to fund it. Consequently, he wasn’t allowed to release the album until he won a lawsuit to get released from contract. He addresses this in a way that manages to combine pubescent gormlessness with Ali-G style rap-isms-
These labels want to put me away for good/they wanna keep me in the hood,
But I keep swinging right back like you know I should/making history in the books,
You suck/there’s no buts/the whole music industry can lick my n*ts,
Motherf*cker I ain’t got no love for some fake ass wannabe Donald Trump!
Deuce claims this is a party album. It’s not; I Get Wet by Andrew W K is a party album and at a time when the man himself is touring it’s a fool’s game to claim that. Mr W K’s got specialist party footwear and a career as a motivational speaker to promote, err, partying hard I suppose. Andrew W K is amazing at delivering rocking hard partying because he takes what he does absolutely seriously and is 100% committed to the path of partying hard. He is the evangelist and the mosh pit his congregation.
Comparatively, Deuce is a whinger. In between the one or two tracks that could possibly be classified as ‘party’ rather than ‘angsty moaning’ on the album, every song is a showcase of self-pity about how no one likes him and he’s oppressed by haters. “I Came To Party” is the closest to an actual party (and lyrically least awful) song that we get and Deuce’s sub-Nickelback MOR-rock chorus sucks the life out of. Travie McCoy provides one of two faintly listenable moments on the entire album but at the same time, leaves me feeling depressed that he’s involved with this mess.
I thought the next track, “The One” might actually be a slightly spiky, punky party song but it descends immediately when he kicks in with “I see the sickness in the signs/the dead weight in line/like the sickness in my mind/homosexuals and liars” -and we have achieved triple threat; misogyny, racism and homophobia. Quite an achievement for a guy with a vocabulary of about 300 words.
And on it goes. There is actually, really a track called “Nobody Likes Me,” featuring the eagerly awaited (by someone, although no one is clear who) rap debut of Ronnie Radke, the ex-member of Escape The Fate. The homeopathic dilution of Linkin Park in the instrumental does nothing to disguise Deuce throwing ‘f*ggot’ into the mix repeatedly while explaining how cruel the world has been to him.
And if you could listen to that chorus, sung by a 30-year-old man, without cringing then I congratulate you, although on the plus side Deuce is so bad you’re profoundly relieved when Ronnie’s inexperienced rapping kicks in. The trite, cliched self-pity continues over “Walk Alone,” which features the naffest “motivational” chorus of overcoming difficulties I’ve ever heard; a Disney TV movie would reject “as I walk alone I still sing for tomorrow” as an opener and it sounds ten thousand times worse whined out by Deuce.
It barely feels worth pointing out he compares himself to legendary rappers on “Till I Drop” (“I’m screaming f*ck the world like Tupac/say my name and you might get shot” -cool story, bro) and all 4:18 of album closer “Now You See My Life” are exactly as you’d imagine. Although it might be worth addressing him on one point in the last song, he questions-
How come I get laughed at by media trash bags,
Just because I’m white and I sing like I’m half black
Deuce, if you’re reading, I hope that this review has gone some way to explaining that it is not because of that. Neither does he sing like he’s half-black; he sings like a dude who is still trying to attend frat parties even though he’s ten years too old.
The real low point of the album, for me, is the lead single. “America” is supposed to be his political stance. There have been some mindblowing political rap songs over the last few years- Words I Never Said by Lupe Fiasco, in particular, is spectacular; dextrous and furious, it roams across all topics
Just in case you were wondering whether Deuce has a Kantian view on state-populace relations, the apex of the song is “WHY CAN’T YOU DIE? MOTHERF*CKER JUST DIE” -according to one of the few reviews I’ve found online the track’s lyrics “really get one thinking” with their political nature. Which is a whole epistemological bag of frogs in its own right.
This is, truly and sincerely, the very worst thing I have ever listened to. Offensive, banal, self-glorifying and pointless- it’s musically repetitive in the extreme (there are no songs that escape without one of Deuce’s dreary “rock” choruses) and self-deluded.
I like to think I wouldn’t try to stop my kids listening to anything- there’s no point in the internet age. Which is why I am hoping some kind of reality-altering event wipes this album off any plane of existence they ever encounter. It achieves the half-star above only because the blank layout might have made it look like it had five.