Korn isn’t really the sort of band to write concept albums. Operatic, epic, grandoise… words associated with our idea of a rock “concept album” but not the band Korn. But in this case, I’m at a loss for what else to call this music. This is Korn’s “concept album.”
Okay, not literally… the lyrics don’t potray the psychological downward spiral of a British rock star or the tragic love story of a mafia hitman, et cetera. But this album flows as a single work of art, and the lyrics do seem to outline a specific sort of mental decline. What this album lacks in marketability and individual song strength, it more than makes up for in atmosphere, texture, and pure emotion.
Issues starts out with the simple chant-like “Dead”, which is the first in a series of inbetween tracks. Many fans cried ‘filler’ when this album came out, claiming that these short transition songs were just put there to take up space. On the contrary, this is a long album even without those short little intermissions. If anything, they contribute to the flow of the album. Some of them are great by themselves and some of them aren’t, but all of them are appropriate.
This album is also the pinnacle of Korn’s “wall of sound.” By this I am referring to the one simple repetative part Head plays, the simple part Munky plays that is entirely different, the beat David plays that is entirely different, the counter-groove Fieldy plays, and Jon’s voice filling in the blanks. And, of course, when you put it all together, you get one complex arrangement that is many times more than the sum of its parts. Issues takes advantage of this more than any other Korn album. The rich textures on this album are one of its strongest points and it has a tendancy to draw you into its morbid, aimless haze.
Issues is, on the whole, Korn’s darkest and most disturbing album. It’s impossible not to feel the insomnia and alcoholism and depression that spawned not only the self-loathing lyrics but the creepy, dissonant music itself. Much of this album borrows from the abstract, heavy sounds of Mr. Bungle. It has some of Korn’s heaviest moments and some of Korn’s most melodic moments up to this point. All the humor from the past two albums seems to have been drained completely – this album is dead serious.
As Issues flows seamlessly from one sludgey, hopeless track to the next, it becomes difficult to decide what is a highlight and what is a lowlight. It works so perfectly as a single experiance that it seems almost criminal to break it down to its constituant parts and analyze them. However, “Falling Away From Me” and “Make Me Bad” seem like a good place to start, being the singles. The former is one of their darkest, moodiest singles and the latter is a groovey and catchey tune with a great melody. “Trash” is a particularely bitter track towards the beginning of the album that introduces the “concept” of sorts for the album: that this whole record is an account of Jonathan’s various stages of a breakdown on tour.
“Hey Daddy” marks the beginning of the headiest, most emotional part of the album, which progresses more and more into a state of despair as it finishes out. By itself it is one of the heaviest and scariest songs on the album. “No Way” has a sort of sick desperation to it and is the ramp up into what I consider to be the climax of the album: “Let’s Get This Party Started.” Despite its unimaginative title, I see it as being the crux of this album. It is in many ways the most intense song on this album and contains some of the most biting, bitter, and personal lyrics to be found on Issues.
After this song, the album tones down a little volume-wise, but emotionally it is just as intense (although it feels a little more resigned than the first three quarters of the album.) At long last we reach the meloncholic, defeated “Dirty” which is another of this album’s many high points… but maybe perhaps it is also a low point, for there is practically no hope to be found in this song. I can practically see Jon passing out drunk in front of his tv set as the network signs off the air for the night (a possibly unintended effect of the static at the end of the album?)
This is Korn’s most serious, mature, and emotionally relevant album to date, and my personal favorite even over the self-titled. I can see why the “old school” fans weren’t impressed, but I’m glad they moved on from the urban influence of Follow the Leader and continued to tweak their sound. I would highly recommend this to ANYONE, even people who aren’t into Korn or other so-called nu metal bands.
This is the Korn television network, signing off. Goodnight.