By Shain Shapiro
Pepper is a breezy, Southern California outfit that's thrived under the spirit and influence of the late Bradley Nowell and his band Sublime. While the trio is originally Hawaiian, Pepper embodies the moniker of their fallen comrade. Musically, they spew sublimity, quiescence and chill - albeit under an inherent lyrical immaturity. Like friends and collaborators Slightly Stoopid, Pepper has simply carried the torch from where Nowell left off, but without Nowell's jarring political qualities.
No Shame is Pepper's fourth full-length and first for Atlantic/WEA, and like many major label debuts after a band establishes themselves on an independent labels not much has changed. The recipe that keeps Pepper spicy is intact. There's a playful dedication to reggae, flirtations with pop, ska, rock and hip-hop, and a weird, juvenile dedication to singing about booze, sex and the beach in an ebullient, apolitical fashion. Singer Kaleo Wassman has a wonderful voice that emanates the sea, sun, and sand perfectly. No Shame emphasizes that but overall the record presents a mixed bag at best. While some of the kernels are bursting with flavour others sit at the bottom of the bag, unbuttered, flavourless and confusing.
However, the good parts are really impressive. The melodic structure on "Nice Time" and "Bring Me Along" buoyantly hold their own against any Sublime comparison. Bandmates Bret Bollinger and Yasod Williams provide enough thumping bass and laid back drum lines to ignite any beach BBQ. "Lost in America" shows a new musical maturity, as the harmonic interplay between electric guitar and bass elevate a simple melody into beach bum bliss, a song that could pump-up even the most languid of surfers. Tongue in cheek comedy ebbs and flows throughout each track, including an introductory skit that explains the theme of the album.
Yet, the trio's unyielding immaturity and predilection for toilet humour ultimately demotes the positives to silver medal position. It's difficult to brush off the dick and fart joke mentality that overwhelms No Shame including three odd, esoteric skits and an exploration how many synonyms for vagina can be fit onto a single album. These guys seem to love women but go out of their way to attack feminist ideas. From impersonating a screaming, mindless groupie to writing two songs about cunnilingus, No Shame is shameless, and the music can't hold up under the weight of their lyrical immaturity.
High schoolers who love the sea, sand, surf and Schlitz will love this. Those seeking a more intellectual, lyrically rich exercise in ska, reggae, and pop will find themselves aggravated. Pepper may have ingested the tone of Nowell's music but got lost in their own verbal hedonism.
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