Painkiller Hotel is a pretty little known band—I mean, they don’t even have a Wikipedia page for crying out loud. They’re a bit more prominent than one might think, though. Their songs have been featured on such television shows as MTV’s The Hills and Real World. They’ve been compared to such bands as Live and Tonic, and played over 200 shows while touring the Midwest last year. Starting out in the underground music scene of Chicago, this rocking quartet broke out with their album Black Roses last October. Less than a year later, they’ve released their sophomore effort Afterglow. Although a bit uneven, Painkiller Hotel delivers an enjoyable, if not generic, listening experience.
“I Understand” gives the record a very energetic beginning. The first thing I could think of when I heard them was the band Cavo or Lifehouse. While not a very unique voice these days with the whole Daughtry-style music that’s being cranked out these days, Prez is obviously a very powerful vocalist with a bit of a country vibe. Although he starts well, his voice loses its luster midway through—as if he’s just ready to get the song over with. “Afterglow” sounds very much like a Rob Thomas-esque backwoods tune. Although I don’t particularly enjoy country, this one is quite nice. It’s a slow-tempo yet very pleasant ditty with creative lyrics, the main one being “You were like the sunset/and I’m the afterglow.” Some may call that cliché, but I found it quite nice. And while not quite as eerie or depressing, “Take My Hand” has that same distant quality that I love so much about “Black Hole Sun” by Soundgarden. Except, you know, with some funky country mixed in. “Can’t Have It All” has a haunting melody, but the lyrics are a bit on the typical love song territory. “You’re terrified/from all these lies/I’m feeding you/to hide the truth.” Yeah, not my favorite song on the album, but still not terrible. The band departs from the usual country for a more alternative sound—with light, skippy guitar and fast-paced drums. “Crave” is a raunchy yet slow-paced tune where he lets his vocals really shine, working the scales like a master. “If I Only Knew” reminds me of American Idol alum Kris Allen, maybe just because of the whole happy, upbeat song talking about death (Allen’s way over-played “Like Like You’re Dying”). Although his voice sounds good, I just don’t find the lyrics appropriate with the heavy metal and funky rock qualities of the song. By this point, I’ve come to realize that Painkiller Hotel has abandoned their old country tunes from the beginning of the album, and are moving into Daughtry territory where all the songs sound the same. “Already Dead” is the perfect example of this—Skillet, Nickelback, Shinedown, so many artists could have sang this song and I’d never know the difference. Not to mention his vocals sound weaker than usual here. Just as I was losing hope, “Life’s Gonna Bring You Down” came on—and while still rock-heavy, the lyrics exude misery, and the song has a nice balance of rock and simple lyric-driven guitar melodies. The final song “Wait For Me” is a bit of a letdown—it channels Daughtry’s “September,” minus the commanding vocals which allow the song to soar. It is simply one-note, and while nice, does not transport the listener whatsoever.
As surprised I am to say this, I think the band is strongest when they dig into their country roots. I’m not a big fan of the genre on a whole, but Painkiller Hotel delivers in that medium. When they go into the ballads dripping with sappy inspiration is when they are at their weakest, and don’t reach their full potential. I’ve gained a lot of respect for Painkiller Hotel by listening to Afterglow, and hope they don’t sink into the generic pit of pop singles like so many before them have.