It’s been five years now since Die Mannequin smashed listeners over the head with their debut full-length album, Fino + Bleed, but one look at what’s gone down in that time proves that it was a long damned five years. In that time, singer Care Failure became Joe Dick II (sort of) in Hard Core Logo 2 (for which Die Mannequin also provided some music), was released from their distribution deal with Warner Bros. and had to find a new, more permanent rhythm section with which to work. Needless to say, the wait for a new release wasn’t easy and the growing pains were hard to watch because the band regularly looked as though they were on the brink of collapse every step of the way but, finally, the band’s sophomore album, Neon Zero, has landed on new release racks.
That Neon Zero is finally out will thrill fans but what they’ll discover quickly when they listen is that Die Mannequin has emerged from their break as a very altered beast. A lot of the hard-charging, scruffy punk rock n’ roll which characterized Fino + Bleed has fallen by the wayside, and a disco punk sound sits glittering brightly in its place. It might sound like a worrisome change (it certainly worried the hell out of this writer, initially) but, as the album progresses, the sound solidifies, syncs up and really starts to work.
As stated, listeners will be absolutely shocked by the difference in Die Mannequin from the moment “Welcome To The Badlands” opens Neon Zero. Right off, the sludgy guitar tone which sort of straddled the lines between punk and Top 40-caliber Hard Rock is gone, the wonderfully sludgy and thick rhythm section is gone and the rasp in singer Care Failure’s voice has been repaired; she’s not perfectly true-toned but the difference is significant and impressive. The sound is like that of a completely different band.
Well, it’s ALMOST like the sound of a completely different band; the clipped, ironic phrasing of the lyrics and vocal performances remains. What Neon Zero represents is a shift toward a more mainstream, similar to the change that the Yeah Yeah Yeahs made during the making of Show Your Bones. Much like the response to Show Your Bones ten years ago, after fans back pedal away from Neon Zero, they’ll carefully tread back into the music as the poppy flavoring of it proves to genuinely be more saccharine than strychnine.
Particular standout songs “I’m Just A Girl,” “Knock Me Out,” “Murder On The Dancefloor” and “Ka-Ching” all successfully balance some fine pop melodies, chord progressions and structures against the darker and more trashy aspect of punk with which Die Mannequin first introduced themselves. That combination might sound a little dicey in print, but it’s really impressive in practice; the easiest way to describe it would be to call it pop music as made by trailer trash, but that doesn’t quite do it justice in spite of its accuracy.
With all of that said, it would be hard to call Neon Zero a rousing return for Die Mannequin, but it does feel like a great lede for the band to pursue further on future releases. There are some good ideas here and powerful performances of them in spite of the very clean overall tone of the album which makes for good bait to get listeners coming back. Now all that Die Mannequin has to do is follow the album up with something remarkable to really show fans what Neon Zero was reaching for. That means expectations will be high for album number three – here’s hoping that Die Mannequin already has a plan for what they’ll do next regardless of whether they release it next year or five years from now again.
Die Mannequin – Neon Zero – “Sucker Punch” – [mp3]