Well over 3-and-a-half years since 2009’s For(N)ever and just about 3 following a slick “Ghostbusters” cover, Hoobastank returns with Fight or Flight, marking a fresh start and more creative control over material. Now on independent label Open E Entertainment, Hoobastank feels like it’s still shaking off the big label blues, just realizing that the band can stretch its limbs and get steady on its feet.
That said, the first three tracks sound like a middle finger held high at the Top 40 ethos—maybe Island too, but there doesn’t appear to be any acrimony. Opener “This is Gonna Hurt” walks the crossover plane of metal and post-grunge confidently, uninhibited like a shrieking kettle on top of a stove. Plus it has a pretty entertaining video, a sort of The Metamorphosis, Falling Down and Death to Smoochy hybrid. “You Before Me,” an athemic love song, will be sure to get crowds banging their heads at a live show. “The Fallen” sounds like a knowing nod to “Crawling in the Dark.” But it’s not a retread at all; the vocals are much more assured and mature.
“Can You Save Me” is a dip into the indie pool; the guitar work is organic and fluid. The track is a good companion piece for the paean-to-the-road “No Destination,” destined to be a tour theme and hallmark. “Destination” demands to be heard, but at the same time has a spiritual quality to the lyrics with its introspection. Hoobastank is spilling out the past 23 years here; the material isn’t so much catharsis as it is a chronicle, so we’re left to wonder what will come next on this new road for the band.
“Slow Down” charms with its dreamy and beachy opening, and serves as part of Fight or Flight’s calmer side. The track has a great hook and probably the best harmonies on the album. Everything is kicked into high gear again with “No Win Situation,” fast-paced and pumping.
Hoobastank has a knack for the melodic on this album. “Sing What You Can’t Say” displays the band’s strong suit for a honeyed moment full of emotion. “Magnolia” is a sing-songy piece that adds to Fight or Flight’s emotional climax. It builds and surprises.
“Incomplete” is breezy and fun. The closer “1000 Words” is a refreshing change of pace, almost like a medieval bard song and kiss goodbye to the Hoobastank that once was—something this unusual ought to continue to appear in the band’s future catalog. Ballads are a strong suit for Hoobastank, anyway.
Fight or Flight is a highlight amongst the band’s album. Hoobastank sounds like it’s finally found a comfortable songwriting niche. There’s still some need to settle into the new label digs—the thrashing sounds are earnest but the guys could channel their maturity into them. It’s a brave new world—don’t be afraid to experiment.