It takes a massive amount of balls to make your first album a rock opera. Most end up pretentious, overly long, and so concerned with the narrative that the music almost becomes an afterthought. Every now and then something like American Idiot comes along, but for the most part, it’s a pretty huge gamble. So, I have to give huge props to Anndy Negative for even attempting something of this magnitude. That said, American Idiot this is not. Abut although some of it doesn’t quite hit the mark, there is still a lot to like and admire about S.O.S.
The most awe-inspiring thing about S.O.S is its structure. Every song has been carefully crafted so as to transition into the next without sounding forced. You can listen to the whole album in one sitting and it’ll sound like one long song with multiple sections. To keep the listener engaged, there are many shifts in mood and instrumentation and the running time is kept to a brisk 25 minutes. I wish more rock operas were constructed this way! (Seriously, try listening to the second disk of The Wall and tell me that you don’t zone out after “Comfortably Numb” is finished.) I appreciate this a lot because it shows a great amount of consideration and editing on Negative’s part. There is no artistic noodling to be found!
There are also some great standalone tracks, meaning that you can enjoy them outside of the context of the narrative. “Everything Burns” is a rip-roaring good time that lyrically hints at the damaged psyche behind being a nihilistic rockstar. It’s one hell of an introduction and probably boasts the strongest hook of the entire album. “Luck Is Dead” marks an important turning point in the story, and is an instant highlight because of its dark but wickedly catchy refrain, “Her body on a bathroom floor/Can’t stop screaming/ Doesn’t matter anymore!”
“Save Our Souls” acts as the album’s resolution, but taken on its own is a poignant reminder of how we elevate celebrities to a Christ-like status that can only lead to negative consequences.
Most rock opera’s make the mistake of concentrating WAY too much on the lyrics, so that hooks are sometimes abandoned altogether just to fit a story arc. S.O.S. has the opposite problem. The music is well constructed enough, but the story is a tad generic and some lyrics are pretty clunky. The plot is basically like every rock opera you can think of. It’s the rise and fall of your typical rock star. Our hero becomes famous, is traumatized by how it affects him and ultimately…well I won’t spoil it for you, but you can guess how it all ends. All of this would be forgiven if the lyrics were a bit more eloquent. The tortured rock star motif is a cliché but can be digestible with the right poetics. A line like “Fortune and fame like a bullet to the brain” is so spelled out that it’s pretty hard to swallow.
I actually think this could work better as musical theatre. The hooks are already strong, so with added dialogue and strong character work, the plot would be given more emotional weight. The lyrics would also work better because they are overly expository, which in this case would help the audience know what they are seeing. I really think there is something here and Anndy Negative’s ambition deserves to be applauded. In the right setting and with some tweaking S.O.S. could truly be the classic it strives to be.
Written by Shawn Thicke
*edited by Kate Erickson