Filter first entered my musical consciousness in 1999 with the song “Take a Picture,” which stemmed from frontman Richard Patrick’s experience of getting drunk and stripping down on an airplane. I’ve probably woken up with the catchy “awake on my airplane” opener stuck in my head hundreds of times over the last 17 years.
Since then, though, the band largely faded from my awareness. I was surprised to learn that not only had I missed four more recent albums in their discography, but that the newest had also just dropped: Crazy Eyes, which features an entirely new band, aside from Patrick, and rings true as a return to the frontman’s roots.
Let’s Talk About That
It’s well-known that Patrick began his career by playing guitar with Nine Inch Nails, and that influence is evident in the eerie notes of the first track, “Mother E.” Patrick begins by singing in a deranged whisper, apparently from the perspective of a mass shooter. Right away, you hear Filter’s signature move of going from quiet-loud to angry-loud and back again in a single track.
It took a couple of spins for me to fully wrap my head fully around this album. Filter uses Crazy Eyes to meditate on 2014’s Ferguson shooting (“Nothing in My Hands,” in which the synthesizers, drums, and guitar are reminiscent of Marilyn Manson circa Antichrist Superstar) and the 2015 riots in Missouri and Baltimore (the pulsing and scream-filled “The City of Blinding Riots”), along with last year’s nationwide legalization of same-sex marriage (“Pride Flag,” featuring an uplifting, energetic, and defiant glimpse of hope for the world).
There is, of course, plenty of inner commentary as well. Patrick’s wife is angry at him for vaping in “Head of Fire,” which features driving guitars and a fun bass line (courtesy of Ashley Dzerigian, who comes from a pop-rock background and adapted well to this heavier style).
In “Take Me to Heaven,” arguably the most radio-friendly song here, he reflects on being present for his father’s death. “Welcome to the Suck (Destiny Not Luck)” is gloomy, yet emotional enough to give me chills — plus, you just can’t beat a rhyming title.
Though heavier and more produced than the Filter late-’90s me was familiar with, Crazy Eyes feels like coming home, mostly thanks to Patrick’s ferocious passion. The vocals, at times, sound like he smoked a pack of cigarettes between recording sessions — the result of more than two decades behind a mic, I’m sure — but they match the raging-against-the-world vibe of this simultaneously raucous and melodic record.
Angry at times, bleak at others, and hopeful in a very few, Crazy Eyes is honest in its portrayal of America in early 2016.