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FIDLAR - Almost Free Music Album Reviews

A little Gary Glitter, a little Kid Rock, even a little Smash Mouth—the third album from these former California party kids holds nothing back.

FIDLAR’s last album, 2015’s Too, began with frontman Zac Carper screaming that he’d never sell out—well, unless the price was right. Like all of his jokes, there was more than a hint of truth to the quip. But if there’s a central takeaway from the testy Los Angeles skate-punk band’s third album, Almost Free, it’s that they wouldn’t know how to sell out if they tried. Recorded with producer-to-the-stars Ricky Reed and mixed and mastered by a team of industry pros touting Rihanna and Imagine Dragons credits, Almost Free plays like a bid for the same crossover alternative audience that Portugal. The Man found. Yet while FIDLAR may have the chops and attitude to play to the masses, they may never have the restraint.

Almost Free shares some of the showy sprawl of Portugal. The Man’s commercial breakthrough, Woodstock. Where that record drew from an unwaveringly safe pool of modernized soul and psychedelia, though, FIDLAR’s left-field influences are either hopelessly uncool or smirkingly out of step in 2019. “Scam Likely” teases the Clash then ambushes with Big Audio Dynamite. “Alcohol” plays like one of the Vines’ tamper tantrums. “Called You Twice” flirts with a guitar riff perilously close to the Proclaimers’ “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles),” while “Flake” has echoes of a certain Gary Glitter jock jam. And then they go full fucking Smash Mouth for “By Myself,” a surf-funk shimmy that only a wedding DJ could love.

On paper, most of that sounds unbearable, but it largely isn’t. FIDLAR trade in some of the gaudiest radio sounds of the last three decades, but they present them with the enthusiasm of a puppy that’s dug a greasy hambone out of the trash, too gleeful to admonish. Almost Free may be obnoxious, but it’s never cynical. FIDLAR are as devoted to old Now That’s What I Call Music! compilations as the Ramones were to Phil Spector’s girl groups.

Still, sometimes it’s all too much. The raucous opener “Get Off My Rock” begins as a spot-on Beastie Boys homage, then heaps one overkill accompaniment on top of the next: pissy harmonica, Kid Rock’s cowboy rage, Cage the Elephant slide guitars, a rooster call, 40oz to Freedom dog barks. Even more grating is “Too Real,” which goes a step further by adding some shrill politics to the mix. For much of the album, Carper plays the angry 99-percenter, but here he sets his sights on P.C. culture and white guilt, too. “You’ve gone so far to the left you ended up on the right,” he seethes. “Was that too fucking real?” he prods after tossing out each jab from a grab-bag of grievances so full his attacks become meaningless. It’s never clear where the satire ends and the truth begins.

Carper’s sour worldview probably hinders FIDLAR’s crossover potential as much as the group’s contrarian indulgence, but, for better or worse, it seems to stoke his band. Carper’s new sobriety has admittedly divorced him from the party lifestyle that was once their animating spirit, so he’s still struggling to figure out a new place. “Why does getting sober make you feel like a loner?” he stews on “By Myself.” Perhaps that sense of alienation explains why FIDLAR is so eager to try on so many different hats during Almost Free. They’ve made a record that captures the tumult of feeling displaced, without abandoning the hyped-up spirit that made them such a spectacle during their party-animal days.

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