Although he’s best known as the frontman of prog/alt-rock titan Coheed and Cambria, Claudio Sanchez has been involved in many projects over the last several decades. Namely, his folktronica/experimental solo outlet—The Prize Fighter Inferno—initially envisioned as part of the Amory Wars saga. Despite sharing clear (and even unavoidable) similarities with his main band, the Prize Fighter Inferno mostly does enough to justify its own existence as well. Put simply, the Prize Fighter Inferno is to Coheed and Cambria what Ben Gibbard’s the Postal Service was to Death Cab for Cutie. That duality has never been more apparent than on The City Introvert, Sanchez’s first LP under the moniker since 2006’s debut, My Brother’s Blood Machine, and first release in general since 2020’s Stray Bullets EP. Honestly, it’s not especially fresh or appealing overall, but there’s just enough here to be a welcomed full-length return.
Like a lot of new music, the album was inspired by personal perils during the pandemic (including concerns about Sanchez’s ill grandfather, whom he couldn’t visit, and his wife’s auto-immune disease); ultimately, though, it aims—and succeeds—to provide eclectic and vibrant celebrations of life (which makes it feel particularly timely since we’re finally starting to see light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel). While Sanchez oversaw the writing and recording processes, he did invite at least bandmate, drummer Josh Eppard, to join in on the fun for a moment or two. The result is certainly a mixed bag, but it should attract fans of Coheed and Cambria and even Eppard’s hip-hop persona, Weerd Science, if only marginally.
There are some clear highlights scattered around The City Introvert’s 40-minute runtime. Specifically, “Death Rattle” is an earnest and dynamic ode that endearingly stacks Sanchez’s voice during the chorus and features consistently resourceful textural manipulations. As a result, it’s a great synthesis of recognizable songwriting and instrumentation with touches of digitized liveliness. Afterward, “Crazy for You” demonstrates his well-established knack for sinister seductiveness (a la Coheed and Cambria’s “Queen of the Dark” or vastly underappreciated “The Light & the Glass”) while “Holiday Fool” adds some robotic timbres to a foundation of childlike playfulness and warmth. In typical Sanchez fashion, acoustic closer “Stay Where You Are” is engagingly pure, sparse, and honest, too.
The rest of the LP still offers enjoyable elements and ideas, but it’s less successful and tolerable. For instance, “Sweet Talker” is paradoxically strange and energetic production-wise, yet also relatively lifeless and run-of-the-mill in every other way. The impassioned and minimalistic ballad “She’s the Brains, My Sweetheart” fares better, but it also sounds like any number of Coheed and Cambria songs that might supplement intricate and authentic rock instrumentation for a simpler and more synthetic blueprint.
Both opener “More than Love” and “Rock Bottom” are almost ruined by the grating Auto-Tune on Sanchez’s voice (hey, just because it’s part of the gimmick doesn’t mean it’s likable, right?) whereas Eppard’s rap appearance, “Stray Bullet”, suffers from amateurishly on-the-nose lyricism and equally pedestrian melodies. To be clear, what these tracks attempt is admirable (particularly in combining a bit of Weerd Science hip-hop with Sanchez’s electronic rock), but the executions leave a lot to be desired.
More often than not, The City Introvert is satisfying and resourceful, with several standout pieces that any fan of Sanchez’s past work will find entertaining. It’s also laudably experimental and bold in terms of its stylistic approaches (it’d be absurd to discredit it for not sounding like a new Coheed and Cambria record, after all). That said, it is disappointingly safe, basic, and predictable in terms of its core melodies and instrumentation, so there’s little doubt that Sanchez could’ve gone even further to flesh it out as a distinctive, vigorous, and rewarding new effort. That superficiality makes this a slightly above-average collection at best.