Perhaps it’s because they enjoy a unique access to the use of human linguistics or perhaps it’s simply because our society has placed immense power on words in general, but vocals – more specifically lyrics – seem to carry an unrivaled weight in a song. Certainly more central than drum rhythms or bass lines and often drawing more attention than even the catchiest of guitar riffs, the message of a song rarely goes without at least some ounce of recognition. It’s for this reason that Sophia Nights, the 5th full-length release from Canadian power-pop rockers, The Perms is just a touch short of spectacular.
Long-time fans will site infectious hooks and unmatched energy both on-stage and on their records among the best qualities of this band and on those counts I raise no objection, however I will say that this release contains an abundance of unrealized lyrical potential. Jam-packed with the same intoxicating melodies and pop guitar riffs they’ve been rocking since inception, this album is – on the surface – just as catchy and exciting as ever (well, maybe not quite as catchy as 2009 release, Keeps You Up When You’re Down.) However, upon deeper and more critical listening we find lyrical composition that tends to disappoint. It isn’t terrible, it’s not even bad; I just know they can do better.
A perfect example of their potential lies in album closer “Over and Over.” Lyrically it’s superior for several reasons. The writing seems well-thought-out, vocal phrases fit the music in an alarmingly attractive way and, most importantly, there isn’t anything that seems compromised for the sake of finishing the song. Additionally, the delivery of this track seems to artfully combine the heavier feel of this release with the pop-ier vibe of previous works. Several other tracks seem to take a huge, premature step towards Nirvana (the band, not the state of enlightenment) and while I’m not opposed to any band’s inter-album evolution, I believe a group should be either tasteful in this transition or fully committed. Save the skillful finesse of “Over and Over” and the balls-to-the-wall approach of “Slipping Away,” this release is neither.
Now, having just read this you’re probably experiencing a bitter taste in your mouth towards this record and for that I apologize. The reason I focus on the lyrical shortcomings is for lack of constructive criticism concerning the rest of the record. Sonically a massive improvement from previous releases, Sophia Nights is a high-energy project that is both well constructed and appropriately representative of the band’s veteran musicality. Album opener and first single, “High School High” is a cohesive if not slightly satirical nod to post-college-aged bands singing about adolescent trial and tribulation that sounds so reminiscent of late 90’s rock (think Good Charlotte and Dookie-era Green Day) that I almost considered spiking my hair again. Also deserving of mention, production tricks in “Mannheim” draw likeness to Hendrix-esque phase modulations resulting in a swimmy and, for lack of a better word, trippy experience.
To be honest, there are quite a few gems on this record, especially if you can overlook the lyrics. It’s exciting, catchy and generally fun and I encourage you to direct your attention to not only this album but also this band as a whole.