If Justin Timberlake were a band, he'd be The Higher.
However, just because The Higher can bust out pop tunes, it doesn't mean that's what defines them. Their first two albums, Histrionics (2005) and On Fire (2007), branded the band's trademark sound of R&B and pure rock. "We fuse the rock and R&B that we know, and put it into our own words," founding member and bassist Jason "Face" Centeno says, citing Michael Jackson, The Dream, Al Green, Jimmy Eat World, and Maroon 5 as influences.
Now seven years since they first formed, and after some shuffling of band members, the Las Vegas-based band is back with their most radio-friendly album to date, It's Only Natural, out on Epitaph Records on June 23, 2009.
"We wrote the best songs that The Higher has ever written on this record. No matter what kind of music you listen to, you're going to find at least two songs that are your favorite," founding member and lead singer Seth Trotter says. "We have two songs the girls are going to love, two rock songs the guys who loved our old sound want, two R&B songs for those who liked our stuff like 'Insurance," two slow jams that people have been begging us to do for a long time, and two straight-up pop songs. It's like Noah's Ark on this record — there's two of everything!"
Not only is there something for everyone on this album, It's Only Natural also marks the band's first concept album, telling the story of what's been going on in The Higher's life. "It was written in the order it appears on the CD, starting with The Higher picking up the pieces of not having all the original members and going through betrayal, separation, and new beginnings, while also making the band thing happen, and moving forward," Trotter explains.
The album kicks off with two pop-rock tunes that reflect the sound early Higher fans know best with "Try Again" about separation, putting their best foot forward, and not dwelling on the past, and "Other Options" in which the band examines what they need to do in order to move forward. Those lead into the two most pop-friendly tracks, "Undertaker" about the band's roots and love for Las Vegas and the title track, "It's Only Natural," which addresses attraction and other 'natural' desires.
Next come the two most heart-wrenching tunes, the rock-based "Story of a Man Obsessed" about paranoia and obsession, and then the slow jam "The (Runaway) Artist," which Seth wrote on piano at the age 15, and adapted into a band tune, written from the point of view of a girl leaving town to follow her dreams.
"The first half of the record is about us realizing that things are falling apart," Trotter explains. "Then it goes on to make us realize we're going to be okay by ourselves."
The second half kicks off with the standout track, "Play with Fire," which Trotter calls their Michael Jackson's "Dirty Diana" of the album. The essence of the lyrics are about overconfident girls whose beauty is only matched by their unoriginality. Next up is their New Found Glory-style "Burn and Turn" about the coming and going of people and their vices, while not getting lost in the shuffle.
The song titles then hit a darker turn with the jazzy slow jam "The Black Dress" about picking a girl up at a funeral and mourning the loss in the only way that feels natural, and "Beautiful Coffins" is about the sad departure of an old friend and allowing them to dig their own grave. The album closes with a two-in-one track starting with "Scandalous" about a girl who's simply no good, and leading into "The Long Con" based off of an episode of the band's favorite show, Lost, in which two characters mutually screw each other over.
And to cap off the album, the band ends with a cover of Ne-Yo's R&B hit, "Closer." "Our band listens to a lot of R&B," Trotter says. "People who like rock may never listen to Ne-Yo, but the song is so undeniable that they might give our version a chance. Plus we like to mess around with covers and mix them up."
The Higher may not be the same band that they were on their last two albums, but they aren't ashamed to tell the story. "The album starts with the most natural way our band could have formed, to who we are now," Trotter says. Centeno adds, "This is our natural progression."
It's Only Natural that the band tells their story through the album. It's Only Natural that their music reflects their diverse mix of styles. It's Only Natural that the band is who they are today.
It's Only Natural, out on Epitaph Records on June 23, 2009.