A manic sprawl of an album that might have wound up a total mess were it not simultaneously so much fun and anchored with such depth and unifying coherence.
Fake Problems frontman Chris Farren sings like a demented carnival barker on the Florida band's delightfully erratic third full-length, It's Great to Be Alive, and, fittingly, the album often feels like a dizzying tour through the crazed funhouse of his mind. Take one turn and he's serenading with fresh-faced young adult romantic angst, take another and he's engulfed in the fury of biblical turmoil, and take one more and find him wrestling with a man-eating alligator. Lurching right alongside him is the impressively diverse and accomplished band, moving nimbly through the anthemic punk-pop sprint of "The Dream Team", the mutant ska of "Don't Worry Baby", the old-timey country stomp of "The Heaven and Hell Cotillion", the swampy bayou rave-up of "Level with the Devil", the funky swagger of "Diamond Rings", and the wistful balladry of "Heart BPM". It is a manic sprawl of an album that might have wound up a total mess were it not simultaneously so much fun -- in a just universe, "The Dream Team" would be one of the summer's biggest pop hits -- and anchored with such depth and unifying coherence. It's Great to Be Alive is one of 2009's richest and most enjoyable left-field surprises.