Clocking in at just over 26 minutes, Surprise! feels very much like a project between friends, and with that comes plenty of fun, with Ieradi's breakneck drumming rarely taking a moment of reprieve until the final string-led "Super-death." Lyrically, Walker revisits lyrical concepts he's explored since becoming a lyricist in Protest the Hero, albeit in more straightforward fashion. The short, driving "Don't Blame the Kids" takes aim at the music industry, starting with Walker recalling the time he bought NOFX's The Decline only to experience all of the business's ills as he grew older.
"Barfly" puts Walker's heavy Propagandhi influence on full display as he wishes a beer-soaked night out would end. "Nostalgia Is for the Birds" discusses society's fixation with the past but narrowly misses the mark, as he mentions how bad The Simpsons has gotten and rhymes "Dawson's Creek" with "on fleek," which comes across more silly than snarky.
Walker's best work comes early on with the one-two punch of "The Obscenity Prayer" and "Broke, Old, and Tired." The former stands as the most fleshed-out song on Surprise!, showcasing Walker's dynamic vocal range, while the latter paints an energetic, escapist punk picture of unplugging and leaving the city behind.
Though the songwriting isn't bulletproof, it's refreshing to hear Walker in a new musical environment, not to mention one some listeners wish he had kept to with Protest the Hero post-Kezia. But as he shouts in "Mission Statement": "Not everything has to be perfect, not everything has to be right." It's how any labour of love should be. (Independent)