After eight years fronting UK ska punk band The King Blues, Jonny “Itch” Fox is trying his hand at rapping instead. Despite his seemingly tough exterior, describing himself on Facebook as a “feral street kid,” his debut full-length is surprisingly polished. Produced by industry staple John Feldmann (The Used, Panic! at the Disco), The Deep End feels like an amalgamation of every current trend in pop and electronic music, and is also heavily reliant on guest vocals. Although this makes the songs pretty catchy, the record as a whole feels lost and causes you to question the lasting quality of Itch’s music.
The record starts strong with “Life is Poetry,” where Itch aggressively raps over a driving guitar riff. If his fast-paced, intelligent rhymes about pursuing life as an artist don’t already draw you in, a soaring chorus from Feldmann ensures you won’t skip over this track. “Homeless Romantic” continues the epic pop rock sound from the opener thanks to an anthemic hook from Taking Back Sunday vocalist Adam Lazzara. Combined with incredibly raw verses from Itch that address abusive relationships, this is one of the most compelling songs on the album. After reaching into the darkest depths of human emotion, Itch snaps to the polar opposite with “Laugh,” an upbeat pop song featuring reggae artist Matisyahu on a feel-good, sing-along chorus. The bridge, which is tailored for live performances, feels a bit awkward on the record, but the song is undeniably a perfect fit for summer playlists.
Throughout the rest of the record, Itch continues fishing for hits, which becomes its downfall. “Like I’m Drugs” tries too hard to attract the EDM crowd with house-style vocals provided by Dani Artaud (ex-Millionaires), and over-the-top dubstep breakdowns. While it will appeal to some electronic fans, the track feels artificial and will alienate many of his punk-minded supporters. 60’s doo-wop pop song “Another Man” is even more gimmicky. The vocal exchange between Itch and Megan Joy grows increasingly ridiculous towards the end, resembling a kitschy Broadway musical. These songs lack the heart of the previous tracks and are overwhelmingly disappointing coming from someone who champions authenticity and non-conformity.
“Not My Revolution” provides a refreshing return to reality. Itch details his struggles as an artist with autobiographical lines over a simple sharp beat. “Children of the Revolution” is another interesting track where Itch utilizes a string of historical name-drops, from Bob Marley to Johnny Rotten, to outline the roots of his rebellious ideals. Unfortunately, the record ends with its worst song. “Ricochet” starts off well with a syncopated reggae beat, before deteriorating into what sounds like a Breathe Carolina dubstep remix gone wrong. The drops are jarring and messy rather than building on the song’s energy.
While The Deep End is, no doubt, entertaining, it leaves you unsure of Itch’s intentions. With every song on the opposite musical spectrum from the song before, the record feels like a bunch of random tracks thrown together in hopes listeners will find at least one song they enjoy. It also leaves you wondering how well Itch can hold his own without the backing of a producer and plethora of guest spots. Despite the album’s weaknesses, Itch shows potential as a compelling lyricist. If he hones in on where he wants to take his music, he could release a cohesive powerful record.