When artists face criticism, they can do one of two things: they can wave a middle finger to critics and continue on, or they can take the criticism to heart and try to reinvent themselves in the future. Icon for Hire, a female-fronted rock band from Illinois, faced (largely unfair) allegations of being just another (insert-any-other-female-fronted-rock-band’s-name-here). Their debut album, Scripted, offered a fun slab of pop-punk, but infused with a healthy smattering of electronics, lots of attitude, and uplifting positivity.
On their eponymous new album, Icon for Hire have reversed the ratio of elements, delivering a predominantly electronic pop album with rock elements. I’ll confess that the initial impression was jarring. However, by my second time through the album, the change was already starting to grow on me. The occasional rapping and nursery-rhyme delivery faded into the background and I found myself bouncing along with tracks like “Watch Me,” an infectious pop number that wouldn’t be out of place on a Gwen Stefani solo album. Indeed, the song itself seems to be the mantra for their new direction, in that it speaks about being unafraid to fail in the interest of progress.
The track fits right in with the overall message of the album. Like Scripted, the eponymous Icon for Hire is a very positive album, even if sometimes unconventionally so. Sometimes the singer, Ariel, addresses difficulties head-on, such as on the track “Sorry About Your Parents,” in which she offers sympathy for the child of divorcing parents. Other times, the band becomes self-deprecating. By pointing out their own flaws, they shine the light on others’. At all times, though, Icon for Hire impart a message of facing difficulties and working through them, leaning on others for help, and displaying strength and integrity. This is a distinct breath of fresh air for a father of young daughters. At a time when a nude, sledgehammer-licking, former children’s-show star is stealing headlines (and releasing a #1 album), it’s nice to see that there are young women in the music industry who desire to see girls value themselves more highly (while staying fully-clothed, to boot!).
The production on this album is incredibly pop-centric. Clean, yet dense. In fact, the electronics and production threaten to upstage the music. This may have been Icon for Hire’s desire, though – to candy-coat the message to the point where you may be singing along before you realize what you’re singing. Thankfully, as I said earlier, there is nothing offensive here, unless you really wanted to count the track “Rock and Roll Thugs,” which compares love of music to drug addiction. Oh, and there’s one intentionally clipped-off reference to someone being “full of shh.” Just like that – “shh,” but with the next rhyme being the word “it.” Fairly harmless stuff for anyone over the age of, oh, say, seven.
Overall, Icon for Hire have delivered an overwhelmingly pop-flavored album, lightening up on the rock and loading up on the electronics and sugary production. Thankfully, the soft, chewy center of this confection is actually good for you – messages of coping and integrity. The shift away from the punk-er aspects of their music may turn off some fans, but hey, one of my absolute favorite bands ever, the mighty Faith No More, reinvented themselves each album. You have to respect a band that isn’t afraid to experiment. I’m really kinda pulling for Icon for Hire to break even further from their roots on the next album.