Review Summary: What would happen if Stephan Malkmus had a relative named Justin who died in Iraq, so he decided to become more political and construct his lyrics more coherently, while the band played faster to match the pissed off tone in Stephan’s voice.
Tom Gabel sure does love his irony, and I’m not quite sure if his fans are aware of it. I mean, I know punk fans were really never the smartest fellows (i.e. the Mohawk) but I once read somewhere that someone hadn’t heard the song
, but believed “Even at Our Worst, We’re Still Better than Most” to be the most self-indulgent song of all-time. Well, you see it’s really quite ironic considering the lyrics are some of the most self-deprecating and the mood of the song is really quite the opposite of what the title would entail. Regardless, it seems that some people don’t have the time to read between the lines.
Maybe I’m wrong though. Maybe since I wasn’t there when it was just Gabel alone with an acoustic guitar and an anarchist manifesto playing in a dumpster, I have no idea what I’m talking about. But does it really matter what venue and what instruments the band supporting him is playing? Isn’t it better that the message is getting out to a wider audience now than to people that were already in support of all the ideas Gabel had to offer? I mean Tom Gabel’s lyrics are just as catchy and political as ever, with choruses like that of “From Her Lips to God's Ears (The Energizer)” where Gabel just screams “Condoleezza” and takes numerous jabs at the Bush administration. The topic may be a bit played out by now, but Gabel’s use of metaphor and way with words gives it a refreshing approach. And then, of course, there’s the lead single “Don’t Lose Touch”, while it may make “old” Against Me! fans cringe with it’s upbeat bass line and harmonizing chorus, it’s hard not to love lyrics like “SOS texted from a cell phone/Please tell me I'm not the only one/That thinks we're taking ourselves too seriously/Just a little too enamored with inflated self purpose./talk is cheap and it doesn't mean much”
. And then of course there is the title track, which details the last moments of a sick man with just the help of drums and the occasional chord. But Gabel’s lyrics and vocals turn it into one of the band’s most tragic, beautiful songs recorded.
While lyrically, Gabel kept his game about even with all previous works, the instrumentation is better than ever. It may irk some that Against Me! is becoming less and less of the acoustic band they grew up as and moving on to a more electric sound, but it is hard to argue that the band hasn’t grown as musicians. It seems as if lead guitarist James Bowman listened to a hell of a lot of Pavement before writing the parts for the album. Each riff is like a stick of cotton candy. Messy as hell, but that just adds to the sweetness. Every sloppy note is played to perfection and the sloppy chord progression of the aforementioned “Even at Our Worst, We’re Better than Most” is hard not to love. But in the middle of the album, Gabel returns to his roots to play some folk-influenced tunes with just him and an acoustic guitar, before moving on to some poppy tunes (singles “Problems” and “Don’t Lose Touch”) and finally closing with the perfect closer of a song “Searching for a Former Clarity”.
Honestly, each Against Me! album has been better than the last. They just keep growing as musicians and creating more complex, intricate songs, but still they have yet to release a perfect album, but with the next release coming out within the next couple months I certainly have high hopes for what the band has next up their sleeve.