Stroke 9

Rip It Off

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Stroke 9's cheeky "Little Black Backpack" briefly flared over the modern rock landscape of 1999, where it joined hit singles from combos drinking in the last warm rays of the post-grunge movement's second wave. But like Vertical Horizon, Splender, and Nine Days, Stroke 9 didn't have much staying power beyond its three minutes of fun and spent most of 2000 satisfying college students' nostalgia for pre-millennium modern rock. After a series of false starts, the Bay Area combo has finally returned to wax with Rip It Off, which switches out the sarcasm and light-alternative tropes of Nasty Little Thoughts with a new, yet largely identical template. A catchy opener actually revs up Splender's "Yeah, Whatever" for a similarly cynical tale of jaded relationships. "Get out/Get dressed/There's only one thing you're after/You're still the same self-centered bastard." Vocalist Luke Esterkyn gets cute by singing both sides of that delightfully mean duet, and his post game of past conquests in "100 Girls" unfolds over some fizzy stop-start riffing that recalls blink-182. "Kick Some A**" fails musically, but it's a funny enough indictment of rap-metal bravado to suggest that Stroke 9 meant the joke to carry through the weak heavy rock arrangement. The pop culture references and urban living nightmares continue throughout Rip It Off, especially on the relative standouts "Don't Worry" and the first hidden bonus track "Do It Again" ("You're taking me to Cousins/And you're taking off your top"). But Stroke 9 really isn't very original, and this becomes glaringly obvious during the album's slower moments ("Anywhere," "California"), which don't have the luxury of relying on lyrical witticisms or fun, empty-headed hooks. Rip It Off might have some appeal for core fans, but its limited shelf life puts Stroke 9's stay at the modern rock motel in serious jeopardy.

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