Pop Evil – Versatile (Album Review)

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The titanic Michigan-based hard rockers Pop Evil have remained active and ambitious, both on tour and with studio albums, since their 2008 debut “Lipstick on the Mirror.” With five singles scoring the coveted accolades of #1 hit and further cementing their relevance in rock, Pop Evil has been an unstoppable, heavy-groove machine for over a decade. After a season of silence their story continued with the release of dynamic two singles, both dropped square into the chaos of 2020. With almost a year for fans to rack up tens of millions of streams, the highly anticipated announcement finally came: in May 2021, Pop Evil would release their next studio album “Versatile.” Their followers have been promised a worthy addition to an already gilded discography, combining anthemic hits with soulful power ballads for a timeless sound elevated by an unmistakably modern polish. 

“Versatile” is the follow-up to Pop Evil’s self-titled opus, their last studio album released in 2018. Initial singles “Breathe Again” and “Work” served as the launching point for “Versatile,” each offering a tantalizing sample of what awaits. The band’s lineup has remained consistent since the addition of drummer Hayley Cramer in 2016, and the five members have an electric cohesivity which is readily apparent in this latest outing. Though the vocal powerhouse Leigh Kakaty is the dominating force on most album tracks, Cramer’s reliability in the rhythm section gives songs like “Raise Your Flag” their unwavering steadiness. Flourishes on guitar from Nick Fuelling give “Human Nature” its infectious melody, rising above the fray when Kakaty falls silent. Pop Evil proves they are a well-oiled machine still striving for greatness, persevering with five albums beneath their belt and a sixth which proves to be just as impenetrable. 

There’s a sense of relief when listening to an album that delivers exactly what’s written on the label. “Versatile” is exactly that: part pop, part extremity, lashed together with electronic undertones. Between changes in tempo and the composition from track to track, this is Pop Evil showing off their creative range in all of its well-crafted glory. If you desire subtlety or conceptual nuance, you are best looking elsewhere. Despite an overarching sense of simplicity, there is no doubt Pop Evil have remained hungry and ambitious, even if the ambition doesn’t show in outright evolution. The lyrical themes are a coarse blend of salt and honey, a salve to rub in the wound of 2020. Every hard-hitting verse of “Work” crafts an anthem of the exhausted, worn-down, beginning with its explosive chorus. “Work” is one of the most straightforward, aggressive tracks on the album, and is placed perfectly to up the ante following a rousing set of introductory tracks.

Opener “Let the Chaos Reign” is gritty, straightforward, and heavy. The varied tempo elevates the intensity for a brilliant lead-in to an album which proves to remain dynamic throughout. “Set Me Free” serves as a high-octane follow up, for though the chorus floats with a thoughtful composure each verse crackles with unbridled energy. There is no lack of light to be found, despite the more raw moments and rock’s tendency to lean towards despair. Closing “Fire Inside” is a beacon of hope and beautiful testament to survival, with Kakaty‘s voice maintaining complete control over the atmosphere’s soft flow. This balance between light and dark is one of the album’s highlights, and one of the many contrasts which makes “Versatile” flow so well. 

Raise Your Flag” is the perfect slow, hearty closer to a long night. The chorus is passionate and moving, but the muted guitar coupled with a full-bodied vocal delivery is enough to call on nostalgia from late nights with friends. But “Raise Your Flag,” much like the candy-sweet depths of “Same Blood,” also highlights some of the greatest flaws on the album. For every chord where the production strikes a perfect balance between the natural thrum of the bass or Kakaty’s powerful intonation, there is another passage where the production glosses over the track with the aftertaste of artificial flavoring. While the power ballads are moving and the anthems undoubtedly hard-hitting, the polish errs on the side of over-produced. It has hints of an act still chasing the high of success, but tracks such as “Work” prove that this heavy-handed approach isn’t necessary to make the talented musicians shine. 

There is little question that Pop Evil is as powerful as ever, and the airtight vessel of “Versatile” delivers another round of hits ready to bask in gold. There’s little question that this album was built to be performed on the big stage, and no doubt that Pop Evil will bring the same explosive energy which gave rise to an album with so much momentum. The rockers are set to hit the road in just a few months, and with them they will bring their most “versatile” potential yet. 

Released By:
Release Date: May 21st, 2021
Genre: Hard Rock/Metal

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“Versatile” Track-listing:

8.5 Excellent

A bright polish on Pop Evil's unmistakable groove lets "Versatile" shine with talent through both light and darkness. Fresh and exciting, this album's anthemic hits will make a sound addition to the band's solid discography.

  • Songwriting 8.5
  • Musicianship 9
  • Originality 8.5
  • Production 8
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