Pink Crustaceans and Good Vibrations

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Since Brad Nowell's untimely overdose in 1996, someone had to take the alternative rock, ska revivalist torch, and Pepper seem more than happy to be that band. Sounding more like Sublime than ever, and produced again by Sublime producer and former Butthole Surfer Paul Leary, Pepper's fifth record could be considered No Shame Pt. 2, minus the irritating skits. As represented by the cover, which depicts some sort of cartoon crab/car mutation combing the beach, Pink Crustaceans and Good Vibrations crawls along as a lighthearted summertime album made especially for the beach bums and bunnies to blast while basking under palm trees and sipping their sugary rum mixers of choice. Pepper fans know what to expect by now. Songs specialize in warm coastal rhythms and singalong hooks ("Freeze" and "Stand and Fall" are the most catchy here) flavored by Kaleo Wassman's mesquite vocal tone. That's their style -- the Southern California sound, straight from the shores of Hawaii -- but unfortunately, their unwillingness to branch out into uncharted territories makes the album become monotonous quickly. In the most interesting moments, "The Phoenix" captures an ominous and spacy side of the band with minor-key guitar swells, and "Do Something" picks up the tempo to a speedy funk-rock number in the style of Blood Sugar Sex Magik-era Red Hot Chili Peppers. With the most potential for a new direction, "Blackout" leaves the gates as a raw and rollicking Operation Ivy-inspired jam guesting Pennywise's Randy Bradbury on vocals, but it disappointingly fizzles into a sophomoric goof, with the bandmembers impersonating surfer dudes chatting about chicks over the verses. Like the rest of the album, it never quite manages to become engaging, but the formula is tried and true, as proven a dozen years prior to this release, and non-discerning fans will likely find that the CD serves well as background music while burying their toes in the sand.

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