Pepper

Pepper

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    7
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Long compared to Sublime, the Hawaiian reggae-rock crew Pepper evolve into something much more pop-friendly on their 2013 self-titled album, splitting the difference between Margaritaville and John Mayer, and only stepping on a pop-top once. The rap & roll number "P.O.Y.L." is the problem, coming off as a limp biscuit not for its writing but for its overdone production, but get past that bit of stiffness, and this is the beach van lifestyle aging gracefully. Pop-reggae romance and Jack Johnson vibes flow out of the key track "Hunny Girl" while "F**k Around (All Night)" rocks like Lenny Kravitz after a visit to the Caribbean with all the studio tricks producer Matt Wallace injects into the cut working splendidly. Wallace is also an asset when the group goes full-blown rock on "Undone," a rare Pepper power ballad where a surfer's heart meets a string section and everything swells like a giant wave. Fans who yearn for the old ways get plenty to choose from as "Deep Country," along with the last four cuts on the album, all come with that Bradley Nowell-inspired punch, that 311 swagger, and that free-spirited Aloha attitude that is identifiably Pepper. The organic twists and turns of both "Don't You Know" and the closing "Illuminate" beg to be heard live, and even if the ultra sheen of some tracks will irk the purists, fans who always wanted bigger from the group certainly get their radio-worthy fill. Don't think of it as a clampdown, think of it as ready for prime-time Pepper, with their 40 ozs and their boards still in tow.

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