If Christy Brinkley was burning up the 80s while Ronald Reagan was tearing down walls, will Rival Empire do the same for music in the millennium? The band’s tracks are seamed together by short descriptive sketches encapsulating music giants like Michael Jackson, Fleetwood Mac, and Phil Collins. They say of themselves that they are a product of randomness.
Matt Koliopoulos, Steve Rivera, and Tim Franz are musically different from each other: one is Reggae, one is Dance, and one is Electric Rock. But they didn’t question the dissimilarities. Instead of being adversaries, they become cohorts. And Rival Empire was born. Of course, they hoped to bypass the chaos that could happen by blending genres as they maintained a cohesive soundscape without compromising on the individual genre. Likewise, the band relied on the album’s satirical 80s retrospective of oneself, society, and Pop/mainstream culture to unify the effort.
Having said this, the first track’s strength is the Michael Jackson tailored lyrical interlude that makes this opening unique. “Cameo Crush” starts off with dramatic drumming that switches over to an up-tempo retro 80s Electronic sound. As much as the composition shows off their skills, it’s the song’s message that is the gimmick: dissecting the riddle of the 80s. In this particular song, mainstream 80s Pop music is what they’re humorously drawing attention to by referencing Billy Joel and Christy Brinkley’s “Uptown Girl” music video. The track is a lot of fun, and probably the best on the album. “Casino” comes in second best with the same danceable groove that utilizes repurposed lyrics from Fleetwood Mac’s song “Little Lies.”
“Calling Me” departs from the 80s focus and offers a more personal side of the band as they sing an easy-on-the-ear tune about yearning for a future passed the place they call home—Chicago. It’s not until “Good Love” that reggae trickles in ever so slightly. And they arrive at a political statement on track six “Reagan’s Rancho Del Cielo” with lyrics that imply that the United States needs to call-on the God-like 40th president to captivate and save our nation. Of course, since he’s been dead for ten years, the phone call can only be done by Nancy. Smack in the middle of this effort there’s a strange pause “Gasoline” that lasts a little over two minutes, and this is where the album seems to lose its direction.
All in all, Rival Empire might have wanted to integrate the three genres (Dance, Reggae, and Rock) while commenting on the highlights of the 80s. Instead, they spent more time on the danceable element, paying less attention to the experimental sound that launched the album. That’s too bad, because when they concentrate on experimental this band is an attention grabber. Perhaps, their next effort will deliver less of the safe vibe that inundates this debut and branch out into what makes this band different from their rivals.