This is the original draft of my review of No Shame, the new Pepper album. You can click here and read how the editor hacked it up. In his defense, it could have been broken up a little bit, but I maintain that the content in my original is way better than the published draft. I'm just saying is all.
Pepper, No Shame
There’s this scene in Blue Crush where surfer girl Anne-Marie Chadwick goes to rescue her lil’ sis Penny from a party at the Volcom house on Oahu’s North Shore. And in the movie, Penny is understandably pissed, because her big sister is ripping her out of what appears to be a pretty cool party, abundant with kegs, hot chicks and gnarly locals ripping on a half-pipe. The whole movie paints Hawaiian surf culture as a constant pursuit of leisure, a breezy drink-till-it’s-time-to-check-the lineup sort of lifestyle. Kona Town, the second record by Kona, Hawaii’s Pepper, encapsulated that vibe with its blend of reggaefied rock and boozy aloha spirit--the record is equal parts double-vision party and hangover hindsight. In short, it felt real.
Unfortunately, Pepper seems to have lost their way home. They moved to San Diego in ‘99. They’ve been on the road for five or six years. They made a fan-alienating record with Ron St. Germaine. On No Shame, their fourth outing and first on a major label, there are glimmers of Kona Town, as well as some interesting forays into new horizons (check the single-minded bounce of “No Control”), but a lot of the time, the songs sound alternately forced and distracted. It’s not a bad record, but the band’s talents seem a little misappropriated.
Pepper normally gets knocked around for ripping off Sublime, but this isn’t entirely fair. While dual frontmen Kaleo Wasserman (guitar) and Brett Bolinger (bass) both sing in the same breathy tenor as Bradley Nowell, Bollinger’s voice has the lecherous richness that Nowell sometimes lacked. Besides—it’s far more obvious that they’ve been stealing from the Police.
Predictably, the tracks on No Shame that sound like a Police song are the best ones. Once you skip the annoying intro skit (and there are two more of these, which is never a good sign), the album kicks off with “Bring Me Along,” a sunny reggae shuffle that grabs its licks from “Every Breath You Take” and its heritage from island acts such as Po’ Hana. The guitars echo for miles, the bass flows like mercury and after the next song is finished, you’re fooled into thinking that Pepper wised up and made another Hawaiian record. “Lost in America,” a hooky ode to life on the road perpetuates the ruse, but when the hang-loose varnish starts to crack, a disingenuous grab for radio airplay becomes apparent. It’s disingenuous, because the track is bookended by another stupid skit, the only purpose of which is to distract the listener from the jarring shift of “Your Face,” a gaudy slab of overproduced pop. After you’ve settled into the stripped-down space of a couple clean guitars, bass and drums, getting slammed with a bunch of tacky overdubs and keyboards is pretty annoying.
From there, the album repeatedly shoots for the mainstream, but for the most part, it doesn’t even hit the backboard. “Like Your Style” is a corny attempt at a club hit. “Point and Shoot” is marred by unnecessary raunch. Plus, the last third is broken up with another unfunny skit. Apart from the plaintive low-key rocker of “Zicky’s Song,” the rest of the record tries too hard. It’s shameful that No Shame makes you sit through a bunch of phony grins to find the groove of a real feeling.