During the introduction track on Issues, the latest from the Bakersfield Five, front man Jonathan Davis says all he wants is happiness. If bliss for a pop-metal band is measured in album sales, Korn may be headed for disappointment. Issues calls to mind the band's earlier work, which was metalish while also incorporating the style that has made the band popular, rap-metal.
Davis has said he and the band want to go back to some of their earlier sounds, such as those on Korn and Life Is Peachy, the band's first two albums: less rap and electronica, and more guitars. The question is, can sole lyricist Davis, Head (guitar), Munky (guitar), Fieldy (bass) and David (drums) pull off the stylistic switch without losing their legion of mostly teenage fans?
That's not to say that Korn has abandoned its M.O. altogether. Distinctive electronic loops, Fieldy's bass work and Davis's singing keep Korn real.
Maybe not wanting to make too much of a change, Korn leads off Issues with "Falling Away from Me," the first single. The song begins with a loop of a synthesized whine, followed by Fieldy's bass pluckings, the rhythm section's booming in and finally Davis's voice. This intro follows Korn's tried-and-true songwriting formula, picking up with its fans where it left off.
Think the band knows its target audience? Korn's live shows include a Korn cage on stage, filled with a few dozen lucky "Korn kids." And the music video for "Falling Away from Me" even mirrors the sleeve art (cartoons of distressed kids) and mood (insatiable parents and, to a lesser extent, girls) of Korn's 1998 multiplatinum record, Follow the Leader, which you know every Korn kid owns and reveres. "Falling Away from Me" still is one of the best tracks on Issues. The catchy back-and-forth chorus makes it stick. Davis sings: "Beating me down / Beating me beating me / Down down / Into the ground / Screaming the sound."
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Davis is unique, and his bipolar styles, the guttural deep yell or the falsetto whine, turn his lyrics into living, breathing things, even when you can't quite understand what he's saying. Keeping the lyrics relatively straightforward and simple allows Davis to alternate their meanings through his delivery.
On "Beg for Me," Davis takes a simple lament -- "I feel ashamed / I've gone insane / The things I feel now are the same / Who gives a fuck / And my life sucks" -- and through beautifully strong, breathy vocals, makes it flow. It comes off as legitimate, not as juvenile as it seems.
Korn's angst surfaces on "Wake Up," or, as it appears in the song, "Wake the fuck up." The song is classic, nascent Korn: a soft intro and build-up, then the sudden, hard-hitting, foulmouthed bridge.
Unlike most of Korn's previous work, the songs on Issues contain insightful lyrics, and some almost plod. Is this a good thing? Considering half of Davis's lines are indecipherable and require much re-listening, one could say Korn is best when appreciated for its overall sound. Poignancy doesn't matter. The latest Korn is not as innovative or groovable as, say, Leader, but Issues is solid and gives kids just enough funk.