Penalty Life starts with one of the best alt rock tracks there is -- a simple, clever number with the dynamic James Bond-themed rhythm section and deceptively effective college boy vocals. It's definitely justified to say that this song ("Dead Stock Paradise") sums up all the best there is about the Pillows (no capital in the official spelling) and their Pixies-inspired brand of rock that shows it's possible to stick firmly to the alternative side of music and still be fit for charts, radio, and movie credits. However, it's also a success that's too hard to replicate, at least along the course of one album, and so the expectations set by the first song will probably be brought down a bit by the end of Penalty Life. Which is a shame, really, as there are plenty of other strong tracks on the record -- "Freebee Honey," for one -- that show the Pillows' ability to pack huge amounts of energy and melody into three-minute chunks and deliver them without abusing the distortion pedal. The band has some garage rock vibe, but they sound upbeat, not reckless, and far too professional to really remind one of the Stooges -- "Terminal Heaven's Rock" even has a brass section. This song also tries to capitalize on the success of "Dead Stock Paradise," basically rewriting the bassline from that track and showing the main problem of Penalty Life -- while the Pillows' supply of energy seems infinite, their bag of tricks starts to run short after a while, and so they get somewhat repetitive. "Phantom Pain" is plain filler, and even when they try to patch things up with a rockabilly influence ("I Know You," "Super Trampoline School Kid"), it can't really replace the lack of a proper hook, especially since the ascetic arrangements leave little to explore in the way of textures and hidden melody lines (that's to say, there aren't any). However, the uneven track selection can't hide the fact that Penalty Life is a strong record, and if the album happens to be set on repeat, bringing the listener back to "Dead Stock Paradise," there's a huge chance it will get a lot of playing time.
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AllMusic Review by Alexey Eremenko