For their fourth album, River City Rebels puts out a bold swerve in direction by heading straight into glam rock. Don’t get me wrong, their eponymous rebel attitude is still intact, with hook filled songs that are catchy as hell. Listening to it, it’s undeniable that 2004’s Hate to Be Loved still has the core philosophies of RCR’s sound. But there is no doubt that this would be a divisive choice for their street punk loving fans.
All that being said, this is a change that I personally enjoy. RCR first set out to prove that punk is not dead, that it will only get better – and they’ve done so through their first three releases. This time for Hate to Be Loved, they do the same for this hair-flying, blues-licking, glitterfest of a phenomenon that was glam rock.
Following the band’s history of great album openers that summarizes the whole record, “Hurt Like I Do” starts everything off with a vulnerable rock song. This time done with a little less shout-alongs and more high-pitched belting. From how it sounds, you can hardly tell that RCR are newcomers into glam, as the high notes and guitar adulations fit them so well. The same can be said for the title track that’s as loud and proud as can be with plenty of pop sensibilities embedded in this polarized song of love and hate.
Another noticeable shift is their songs’ subject matter that moves away from political matters to dive deep into the ups and downs of relationships. “Dreamy 17” encapsulates the head over heels feeling of love while also acknowledging the misery that comes with it. “Don’t Mess With Cupid” is an Otis Redding cover with the volume up to eleven, and infused with lighthearted fun thanks to its bouncy rhythms and bright horns.
The band also adds a few blues/rock additions which I immensely enjoy (it being one of my favorites). “Die Young” is a slow-blues jam with gut-wrenching emotions and tasty guitar licks reminiscent of Gary Moore and Clapton. “Her New Man” takes the classic 12-bar blues shuffle and meshes it with their rollicking punk attitude.
Which leads me back to my previous point. Hate to Be Loved is a bold direction for the band, but their sound is still intact and their core still screams punk. As heard from “Cloudy Times” and “Glitter and Gold” which are as rowdy and fun punk ska with a few shiny additions. All in all a great new direction for the band.