Review Summary: Ranked against the hordes of all music being produced in the world, this is still upper echelon, as it features a unique band producing good music, but when stacked up against the band's back catalogue, this release feels like a further dilution of Agains
I go through phases. For songs it's fairly seasonal. Winter 2004-2005
: "Owl" by Hopesfall. Fall 2005
: "Juarez, Mexico Part 2" by In Pieces. Winter 2006
: "7th Heaven" by Tera Melos. Spring 2006
: "Goonies Never Say Die" by Set Your Goals. Spring 2007
: "Those Anarcho Punks Are Mysterious..." by Against Me! When obsessively listening to "Those Anarcho Punks Are Mysterious..." I couldn't get enough of the Against Me! style, and that one song embodied it all. The vocals are gravely, rough, and charismatic. The overall singing and playing are perfectly sloppy in their rubato. The instruments all have clean tones but are played in such a vigorous fashion that they are rendered distorted. Even the production reeks of a punk sensibility with its reverb room mic tones and the gang vocals. The lyrics too, though unapologetically political are sung with candor, and perfectly fit the music. It's just a fuc
kin great song. Maybe the only thing absent is drumming, which on every other song on Reinventing Axl Rose
is wonderfully upbeat and galloping. Against Me! had carved out a beautiful niche of folk, punk, and feel-good rock and roll that brought them a lot of praise from both critics and fans. As the Eternal Cowboy
diluted the formula a little bit but still delivered a pretty clutch album. Searching for a Former Clarity
seemed to be a step away from a lot of the aesthetic choices that made their previous works so appealing. The album wasn't nearly as rough hewn or sloppy as previous albums. They really tightened up their sound. The vocals were still gravely but their delivery was less off the walls and passionate. The guitar strings were still being strummed but without the breakneck vigor of previous works. The production still brought out the theoretical punk and folk stylings of the band but somewhere along the way, a lot of the feeling had been mixed out.
And now here we are at New Wave
, an album who's very title seems to be a mission statement (see also Searching for a Former Clarity
). Against Me! is further carving out their newer style, taking another step away from their youthful and rough beginning. The production here is notably cleaner than that of any of their previous releases, even Searching for a Former Clarity
. You can tell that everything here is probably measured against a click track and each instrument is pretty meticulously recorded and mixed. This attention to detail helps bring out the instruments when Against Me! vary their typical tones like on "Borne on the FM Waves," which features a trebly, solo guitar that has a lot of variety and character throughout the different iterations of the slightly distorted rhythm guitar style. At other moments though, this increase of clarity doesn't do much other than dumb down the energy of the song. The octave guitar melodies on "Piss and Vinegar" don't cut or grind at all because the production is so clean, leaving the song a weaker shadow of its punk self. Overall, I'm left with the impression that the improved production only brings down Against Me!'s trademark sound instead of enabling it.
This dumbing down also emerges in other parts of New Wave
. The drumming seems ridiculously midtempo for a band that could once rock the double-time gallop like nobody else. It produces really curiously dull moments on the album. The dance drums on "Stop" make it sound like a Franz Ferdinand B-side more than anything else. "Borne on the FM Waves" feels like a tepid rekindling of the slow jam flames initially ignited by the wonderous "Those Anarcho Punks Are Mysterious..." The drumming, while not bad, just leaves me with a lot of question marks and a whole lot of extra energy that I can only hope to release while rocking out to the 2:21 that is "Americans Abroad" (that is if I haven't already started to spin something of theirs that predates 2005).
And most importantly, some of the songs just aren't that good. Many of their songs are just boring. "Animal" makes me feel like I'm stuck in the turgid riff-rock of a band like Queens of the Stone Age. The unfortunately titled "Piss and Vinegar" feels like a MAD TV-esque parody of the band's previous true piss and vinegar brand of punk, its "whoas" and "ohs" falling short of the passionate cries found on Reinventing Axl Rose
and As the Eternal Cowboy
. However, there are some fairly clutch moments on this album as well. "Up in the Cuts" and "White People for Peace" both have awesome swinging choruses that are brimming with energy and spirit. "Thrash Unreal" is a really successful attempt at the slow burner that turns into a ballad midway through. The song is touching and nice for its whole 4:17, a feat I didn't expect at all. Even when the cheesy "bah" background vocals enter in the chorus, I still am taken away by the awesomeness of the song. Overall, though, other than those three, plus the fast "Americans Abroad" and the hopeful mood of "Borne on the FM Waves" I have trouble finding a song I really like on this album or at least one that can keep my attention for its duration.
Don't mix me up though for a crusty old mad punx fan. I'm also not some nostalgic guy who can't believe Against Me! totally sold out or something. This album is not offensive in either of those ways. Against Me! has deviated in such subtle, small baby steps that their style is mostly altered in terms of the x-factors, those tangible yet untouchable aspects that can render a whole album amazing, or leave it uninspired. In the case of New Wave
, despite some gorgeous, well-written songs in the front half of the album, the album feels flat. Blame the production, the midtempo drumming, the refinement to the vocals, or the increased tightness of the band's playing, but I really think the problem is tougher to pigeonhole than that. I can't blame a band for having more money and time to put into production, or the experience that leads them to tighten up as a band, but somewhere along the way a significant amount of passion was lost in the ether. I don't know where it went. It appears briefly in tracks 2-4, but not much elsewhere. As a final note, this album, ranked against the hordes of music being produced, is still upper echelon, as it features a unique band producing good music, but when stacked up against the band's back catalogue, this release feels like a further dilution of Against Me!'s magic. Maybe I'm at fault for needing to compare New Wave
to previous Against Me! albums, but at the end of the day that really does tarnish this album quite a bit.
Recommended Tracks: White People for Peace, Thrash Unreal, Up the Cuts, Borne on the FM Waves, Americans Abroad