Ron Pope found great success online after his track A Drop in the Ocean, written and performed with Zach Berkman, became a viral hit in 2005. The next ten years saw him embark upon a solo music career that saw him signed to Universal Republic before going on to release music independently. Now he feels ready to move on to something new, that being this eponymous debut album from his latest project Ron Pope & the Nighthawks.
The record, which was co-produced by Pope and Ted Young (The Rolling Stones, Kurt Vile, Grace Potter), may feel like a fresh page for the band’s lead singer, but for the most part follows overused, shopworn formulas that have characterised run of the mill pop rock for decades. One wonders just what it is that warranted the separate project; there is nothing new to see here.
Southern Cross opens the album with crisp production and sweet harmonies, two elements that remain its strongest throughout. It really is a case of style over substance however, with the songwriting sounding decidedly uninspired and every instrument playing to type. Like a sizeable chunk of the record it has a kind of quasi-southern American vibe than never really convinces anyone on account of its palpably commercial nature. The only time this sound is replicated to impressive effect is on Ain’t No Angel, a dark bluesy number full of cocksure bravado and anthemic vocal hooks.
One notable lyric on that track is his assertion that ‘I do it my own way’. The lack of truth in that statement proves to be quite a hindrance throughout the rest of the album. Ron Pope does not do things his own way, he does things the way every commercial soft-rock artist has done them for years. ‘It’s already started to snow, / Watching my breath in the cold’ he sings on novelty piano ballad Leave You Behind, ‘The lights of the evening are starting to glow, / I know you’ll see the tracks that I leave as I go.’ The lyrics could have been written by a high school student and the song’s arrangement and structure, regardless of the high production value, display a similar lack of sophistication.
White River Junction resumes the poppy southern rock sound, the kind of song the artist would probably consider a tribute to Springsteen and the like but which The Boss himself would probably abhor, using muted power chords like they’re going out of fashion (which they did, about five years ago). One track that can be considered at least good fun is the pacey, brass-featuring Hell or High Water, on which the subtle ripping off of the main riff from Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting could get a free pass were it not for the fact that Pope himself repeats the trick again on Take Me Home. In a track that is symbolic of the artist’s complete lack of inspiration, he literally rips off his own song, which itself was ripping off another more famous and, frankly, better song.
Other than the double-plagiarisation that occurs, there is little to get too wound up about on Ron Pope & the Nighthawks. But therein lies the album’s problem: it is a record that induces in its listener a severe, numbing sense of complete and total apathy. Pope performs well and there are some nice vocal and guitar hooks, but nothing really justifies blessing this LP with the attention it craves.
Ron Pope & The Nighthawks’ self titled debut album is out 8 Jan on Brooklyn Basement Records.