It has been three years, but more like thirty since the momentous breakout Symphony Soldier for The Cab, who finally bring forward brand-new music. The aforementioned Soldier began the band's transition from its alt-pop/rock roots and began to incorporate more and more of their pop side as evidenced by hits like "Bad", "La La", and "Endlessly." So what would the now trio (Alex Marshall recently announced his departure last week) bring forward for their first release on a major label since 2008's Whisper War (Fueled By Ramen/Atlantic)?
The end result is the EP Lock Me Up, their first official release with Universal Music Group's Republic Records and it appears The Cab has fully embraced their pure pop side, for better or for worse, depending on how long you have been a fan of the band. For the "Soldiers" who came aboard 3, 4 years ago, they will lap it up, buy their singles, request their now rather radio-friendly music on Top 40 radio and buy their concert tix to see what is now clearly all frontman and remaining original Alex DeLeon. But for those who discovered them back in 2007, 2008, the complete conversion of sound that began 3 years ago may as well turn off that part of their fanbase. So what The Cab potentially have here is an EP you either love or you hate.
The EP kicks off with the title track, which immediately grabs you with the thumping beat that has a marching platoon feel and it should be fitting since The Cab calls their fans "Soldiers." Like "Angel With a Shotgun," "Lock Me Up" makes great use of metaphors, this time using a lock and key to symbolize love and exhorting a lady to lock him up with exactly that. Next track "Moon" is likely headed to Top 40 radio, where it should do relatively well with its catchy dance beat (the autotuned feel might be a bit jarring at first) and a chorus line you will sing over and over and over again. If you are going to embrace all things pop, a little bit of EDM will go a long way and The Cab pull it off with surprisingly execution and skill. But for older "Soldiers" and even fans that have lingered around since Whisper War may take some time to get used to the occasional AutoTune, which is a core element of the runaway genre of the moment.
The next three tracks is the part of the EP that bears more careful examination because it shows off a side never seen before and this reviewer cannot help but have some questions. We'll get to that at the end. All three tracks have a decided Justin Timberlake/Ne-Yo/pre-2010s Backstreet Boys type feel beginning with the heavily metaphorical "Numbers," which begins with the come-hither line, "Out of the 7 billion people in this world, there's only you/Almost a million words I can say, none of them will do." DeLeon's now rather versatile vocals really stand out on this track and might be THE best track on the EP. "Stand Up", though feels like a standard issue uptempo R&B driven anthem that reeks of sheer positivity (nothing wrong with that!), nothing that sets it apart from others like it and that is a shame because DeLeon sings the hell out of it, but it's not enough to keep it from that bin.
The EP ends with the clear nod to Timberlake/Backstreet "These Are The Lies." The start of the piece feels like something out Timberlake's recent album The 20/20 Experience (especially the funkified fast-paced rap-like singing style in a couple lines of the piece) but the middle and the end seems like a nod to the Backstreet Boys, who are still among the masters of the rising R&B chorus, but one thing the Boys never did was allow such lines to have an autotuned feel and this one does. What a shame. Alex DeLeon in this reviewer's opinion is way too vocally gifted to let his vocals get autotuned.
And the questions this reviewer has for this section of the EP, why the liberal usage of autotune on such a great voice and why does it feel like we're being setup for an eventual, down the road solo path for Alex DeLeon, who might be THE next man to shake up R&B driven pop?
Lock Me Up certainly shows a different feel and vibe from their past efforts, even Symphony Soldier. The trio clearly have embraced their pop side and now throw in some R&B for good measure, although the last three tracks lean pretty heavily on the latter than the former. Like said before, Whisper War fans may get shut off and shut out from this one, but that might be done by design as they clearly in this EP are aiming straight for their Soldiers, especially the younger set that might be into groups like One Direction, Rixton, The Vamps, 5 Seconds of Summer, Before You Exit and Hot Chelle Rae.
Overall, the EP offers an above-decent glimpse (to this reviewer) at what is next for The Cab, which is clearly going down the route of Maroon 5, when they ditched their old school pop/rock with Prince-like funk/soul for just pure, glossy and slick pop with modern R&B overtones on Overexposed (at press time, the group wants to return to Songs About Jane glory). In The Cab's case, they have fully shedded any vestiges of their Whisper War/Vegas circuit sonic past with past original members Marshall and Cash Colligan and have revealed themselves as a potentially dynamic R&B-driven pop outfit but the last three tracks appear to offer a bigger glimpse at what life would be like if Alex DeLeon decided to close up shop and hit the circuit on his own. Soldiers, especially the younger and hungrier ones may argue with this reviewer to kingdom come that this is perfection, but this reviewer will argue that the use of autotune throughout the EP is masking that very perfection that is the vocals of one Alexander DeLeon. As said before, why mess with that kind of vocal perfection?
Too bad, this EP would be entering near-perfecto territory if the liberal use of Autotune was not applied on one of THE best voices in pop/rock music today. And on top of that, this reviewer cannot definitively say if this complete change in sound (not lyrics, they have remained very true to what they are from the start) is for better or for worse. A full-length album with these five tracks included will be able tell the whole story of The Cab.