Review: Hoobastank Revisits Funk On Refreshing ‘Push Pull’
It’s been six long years since Hoobastank released their last album, but finally they’re back in action. The band began recording the new music in fall 2016, but a few returns to the studio to record additional tracks delayed its release. Produced by Matt Wallace, Push Pull is the long-awaited followup to Fight Or Flight, and a welcome return for the band.
Push Pull presents a noticeably different sound compared to most of their major label releases. Since Hoobastank in 2001, they’ve followed a clear rock direction. On 2006’s Every Man For Himself and 2012’s Fight Or Flight, the music grew harder and grungier. Yet, even on their lighter records – The Reason (2003) and For(n)ever (2009) – the pop was evenly balanced with the rock.
Push Pull sounds most like those last two albums, but it also reintroduces an element we haven’t heard much since Hoobastank’s 1990s origins: funk. Back before they signed to Island, Hoobastank kicked off their career with They Sure Don’t Make Basketball Shorts Like The Used To, a funky album with more groove and saxophone than anything we’ve heard since. Indeed, now on their second album away from Island, Push Pull draws on some of Hoobastank’s earliest influences here. Fans accusing Hoobastank of “selling out” should listen to Basketball Shorts. If anything, Hoobastank is returning to their roots.
It’s true that Push Pull isn’t as heavy as most of their 21st century music. However, that core is still there. Tracks like “True Believer” and “Better Left Unsaid” fit right in with where Hoobastank has been for the last 15 years. Most of the other songs wouldn’t be out of place on The Reason or For(n)ever. “Buzzkill (Before You Say Goodbye),” “Fallen Star,” and “There Will Never Be Another One” harken back to Hoobastank’s pop rock repertoire. The funkiest songs here are the two singles (“More Beautiful” and “Push Pull”), but even they don’t reach Basketball Shorts extremes.
The slight change of course has actually rejuvenated the band. The songs here feel light, even younger and fresher. In addition to soulful and funky melodies, instrumentation, and production, Hoobastank has also brought back some of the charm that brought them fame in the first place. Indeed, Push Pull features frontman Doug Robb’s best vocals since The Reason. His voice is clearer and cleaner, losing some of the gruffness that defined the band’s harder rock material.
All in all, Push Pull is a strong album. It doesn’t push Hoobastank into entirely new territory, but in revisiting elements that defined their music, the effect is a refreshed feeling. The new album is re-energized and offers a welcome blend of funky pop with the harder rock. Hoobastank have proven again that they can still craft irresistible songs that will brighten any music collection.
Track by Track
“Don’t Look Away” – In contrast to the punchy beginnings of all of Hoobastank’s previous albums, Push Pull tiptoes in on a calmer note. After a brief exotic introduction, a mid-tempo drumbeat, falsetto “ooh”s, and sober vocals usher in “Don’t Look Away”. It slowly builds up to a solid chorus. Doug Robb sings about our modern day fixation on social media. How we present ourselves online isn’t quite how we are in real life. While he points out the flaws of social media, he admits to his own obsession with it. Hoobastank first performed “Don’t Look Away” in September 2017, and it’s great to hear the studio version of the song.
“Push Pull” – The title track was also the second single ahead of Push Pull‘s release. In many ways, “Push Pull” sets the tone for the record, but it also maximizes the funky pop sound Hoobastank returned to. It’s more upbeat and fun musically, highlighting funky guitar and renewed energy. While Doug sings about letting things unfold as they will instead of pushing only to get nowhere, the music emphasizes his carefree attitude. “Push Pull” is an infectious song and a worthy title track.
“More Beautiful” – The album’s shocking lead single, “More Beautiful” is an endearing serenade promoting body positivity. Doug sings to his wife that, although she’s changed over the years, she’s even lovelier than before. Complementing the lyrics, grooving bass, chirping guitars, and, later, shrieking strings give the song fun energy. Doug revealed that he originally wrote “More Beautiful” several years ago, around the time they were recording Fight Or Flight. Luckily the band revived it for Push Pull, because it’s a clear album highlight.
“Head Over Heels” – Track #4 is the only song on Push Pull that Hoobastank didn’t write. In fact, “Head Over Heels” is a cover of the Tears For Fears hit single, albeit with a “brawny, Bowiesque” flair. Following a spooky keyboard introduction and a verse with cheery guitar licks, Hoobastank reimagines the chorus as something murky yet still blissful. “Head Over Heels” improves with each listen and is an inspired cover of a 1980s classic.
“True Believer” – Switching gears – and likely pleasing Hoobastank’s more rock fanbase – “True Believer” offers up the most energy and guitar of any track on Push Pull. The band performed it live last fall, and already it garnered fans’ excitement. The song still utilizes Doug’s strong falsetto on the verses, while the choruses rock out without restraint. The lyrics playfully describe love as a sort of religion (even so, Doug’s still an atheist!).
“Just Let Go (Who Cares If We Fall)” – Just as suddenly, Push Pull surprises us again, this time with something more soothing. Indeed, “Just Let Go (Who Cares If We Fall)” sounds like a dreamy escape to an island, warm and even magical in its almost-childlike message. Its theme could work for young children (Hoobastank is filled with dads now, after all), but it could just as easily revive an adult who’s stuck in a rut. The lyrics profess that “learning to swim is so much more than learning how not to drown”. Indeed, don’t fear the fall if you get to fly. The song’s light and airy sounds echoes these lyrics.
“Better Left Unsaid” – Hoobastank dives into a somewhat humorous subject, and yet one many can relate to. The lyrics here describe asking about a subject that’s better not to discuss, because the answer will cause more turmoil and torment. Doug sings of obsessing over something he just learned, lamenting that his “ignorance was perfectly bliss until your wrecking ball words hit”. It sounds a bit silly, but “Better Left Unsaid” is one of the most fun songs on Push Pull. With winding guitars, distorted vocals, and a heavier chorus, it also gives enough punch to match Hoobastank’s previous albums.
“We Don’t Need The World” – Like “Just Let Go,” “We Don’t Need The World” explores softer territory. It opens with tiny piano, leading into a soft rock serenade aiming to renew love that’s faded over the years. With a little effort on both individuals’ parts, they can reclaim their relationship. On first listen it may not stand out, but “We Don’t Need The World” grows into a favorite after more plays.
“Buzzkill (Before You Say Goodbye)” – Perhaps the best song on Push Pull is this breakup anthem. It starts with low bass and restrained vocals, but by the pre-chorus the song is already picking up steam. It adopts a bubbly, enchanting sound before exploding into an impassioned chorus. Whereas on the verses and pre-choruses Doug describes how good they used to be vs. where they are now, respectively, the chorus magnifies his desire to fix the relationship. “Why can’t we kiss? I want to kiss like we did,” he cries. The bridge introduces new hope before a stripped-down return to its epic chorus.
“Fallen Star” – The album takes it down a notch for a rumbling ode to our nation’s veterans. “Fallen Star” opens with drums and an unsettling chant, then moving into an echoey verse – reversed screams introducing each line. The chorus is lighter as Doug thanks those who’ve served in the military. According to the press release, Doug was:
…inspired by a memory of him watching television one night and seeing a military family of a soldier who had died in combat. It made him think of the brave men and women who serve and even more so now the parents of those who serve. Being a parent now it clicked, the unbelievable sacrifice made by both soldier and their families.
“There Will Never Be Another One” – Push Pull ends with somber breakup song. Drums and an incantation of “no” set the stage for a gloomy verse full of nostalgia and regret. Doug’s vocals grow in passion and intensity up until the climatic line. “Your memory’s still haunting me – just let me be!” A clock-like ticking lends the dusky song a sense of time running out and growing unrest. The song drifts away with a reverb-laden, fading guitar chime.
Highlights on Push Pull include: “Push Pull,” “More Beautiful,” “Better Left Unsaid,” “We Don’t Need The World,” and “Buzzkill (Before You Say Goodbye).”
You can buy Push Pull on iTunes or stream it on Spotify now.