With “six years” in the making, yet written and demoed in “15 days”, it’s still troublesome to put a finger down on the next part of Taproot’s career. Having fought with media mogul Fred Durst early on in their history – and self publishing their first 3 albums – the band managed to sign with Atlantic, and on the back of the surge in interest in nu-metal with bands such as Puddle Of Mudd, Linkin Park, Creed et al the band reached their zenith on 2002’s Welcome and gained support slots on a host of big name tours at home and abroad. Now they are settled with Victory Records and The Episodes is the second album to be released on the label.
Despite being in the company of acts who managed to break the UK market for a time, Taproot rarely made a big enough impression before heading home, with one now notable UK Music channel editor describing them on their 2001 tour with Kid Rock as a “piss-poor live act”. It’s not as if all their songs are easily forgettable: the band can create radio-friendly ear worms and melodic choruses, but perhaps over time their music repels listeners rather than creating ceaseless allure. This is more than evident on the track ‘The Everlasting’ where after a few listens the catchy chorus transgresses into a sickly annoyance.
The Episodes is a concept album based around “growing up” and being aware of the choices you make and the effect it has on your life. According to the band there are “three main characters, and it’s something that hopefully each person can take some different away from”. Not that you can really grasp the narrative as such. Without videos to accompany the music – the band have said that they plan a string of videos to put the songs to life – it is difficult to hear just what vocalist Stephen Richards is saying, as the mix of aggressive playing and dense guitar sound drowns out the vocals making it difficult to digest. 2010s Plead the Fifth largely returned to their heavier material, and this album continues down that line. ‘Lost Boy’ features a twisted and string bent riffs, although devoid of any real audible forcefulness – it sounds too lethargic, and ‘Around the Bend’ mixes grunge influenced loud/quiet dynamics to a predictable end.
But before you get to that, the most distracting part of this album is the inclusion of a computerised voice. It isn’t any old voice, it sounds very similar if not identical to theoretical physicist Professor Stephen Hawking. Most people in the US would have seen the episode of The Simpsons where Hawking made a guest appearance, so just why the band would have the megamind scientist’s voice on the album is somewhat unclear. It is used as a vehicle to enhance the albums’ narrative, but it just doesn’t work and always sounds surprising or out of place, and even inappropriate in context to the music. Maybe I just don’t get it.
There is a darker side to this album and one that is brought to life by the cinematic qualities of carefully constructed layers of saturated guitars, feeding on climactic changes to the song structures, for instance on ‘A Kiss From the Sky’. But by this time it is too little, too late, and it sure doesn’t save the rest of the songs from disappointment.
One way or another Taproot’s earlier nu-metal incantations have been allowed to survive alongside others who thrive on the power ballad. But this band isn’t the sort that can impress their sound easily in people’s memories, and without a firm game plan each album fails to really capture an audience.