Emarosa are a band who certainly are no strangers to change. Both their lineup and sound have changed numerous times since their formation all the way back in 2006. As they approach the release of their sixth full-length album Sting, the band is now a duo comprised of founding guitarist ER White alongside lead singer Bradley Walden.
After enduring lineup changes and time out of the spotlight after the release of their transformational 2019 album Peach Club, the key question is whether Emarosa can deliver a comeback that cements their place in the pop rock genre they entered on that release, or whether their most creatively profitable days are behind them.
Ultimately, the answer to that question may vary significantly depending on the listener, and their willingness to follow the band even deeper down the rabbit hole of modern pop music. Emarosa’s long-developing follow-up to Peach Club is somewhat of a mixed bag, containing a handful of tracks that are among the strongest of their pop era, alongside other solidly produced yet somewhat less memorable cuts.
The album opens with lead single “Preach”, with Walden seemingly addressing online cancel culture and his own personal controversies. The contrast of the bitter lyrical content with the upbeat groove of the instrumentation can’t help but remind the listener of vintage Michael Jackson — a frequent comparison point for the project.
In general however, the album seems to tone down on the drama and bombast that had remained a staple of the band’s songwriting, even as they moved away from post-hardcore. While this does allow Emarosa to more fully embrace modern pop rock stylings, at times it leads some tracks on Sting to teeter precipitously close to being inoffensive background music — something the band could rarely be accused of in the past.
“Stay” is an example of a track that gets the balance right, with a memorable hook tackling the album’s recurring theme of dangerous love, as Walden sings, “I know that I shouldn’t stay/But I’m gonna do it anyway”.
However, it’s the song “Woman” that is the most complete embodiment of the album’s potential. A surprisingly thoughtful reflection on the cycle of hurt in romantic relationships, the song is an absolute stunner, with a gorgeous synth melody and pounding drums setting the stage for the album’s most powerful hook. It’s an incredible highlight, and arguably the greatest song the band has made since they began their foray into pop rock.
Yet such a clear high point also has the effect of making some other tracks, like the breezy yet ultimately unmemorable “Cinnamon”, seem slight by comparison. It’s in those moments that Emarosa seem to somewhat lose sight of their strengths as songwriters, slipping into a commercial playlist anonymity that hardly suits them.
As Sting comes to a subtle close with the chilled-out groove of “Danger”, it’s clear that Emarosa has fully departed from the hard-hitting post-hardcore with which they originally made their name. Overall, the album is certainly impressively produced, and it’s hard not to admire the band for so thoroughly adapting to modern pop sounds.
Ultimately, Emarosa remain at their strongest when they’re going for broke with big emotions and a widescreen sound, and the strongest tracks on Sting reflect that. While listeners’ mileage may vary, fans of groups like The 1975, who deftly blur the line between pop music’s past and present, will likely find plenty to enjoy.