Keep Them Confused
, No Use For A Name's 9th (!) full-length since the band's 1986 inception, comes off on first listen as being, well, quite different
from their previous releases. NUFAN's last two albums, 2002's Hard Rock Bottom
and 1999's More Betterness!
, marked a new direction for the band, sacrificing much of their trademark intensity and speed for an added emphasis on melody, less guitar soloing, and cleaner vocals from Tony Sly. Needless to say, many of the band's old-school fans from the Leche Con Carne
and Making Friends
era (arguably their greatest songwriting ever) did not recieve MB
with open arms. In fact, most of the old-schoolers predictably hated it.
Well, if you bought Keep Them Confused
expecting a return to their speedier heyday, you may be a bit disappointed. KTC
is easily NUFAN's slowest, poppiest release yet, with many of the songs staying in decidedly hard rock, mid-tempo territory. The lack of a few more aggressive tracks hurts a little bit, but not much. Tony's vocals lack the old intensity that made his voice unique, and Ryan Greene's trademark flat-as-paper production certainly doesn't help. If NUFAN needs one thing more than anything, it is to STOP USING RYAN GREENE. His crap mixing sucks a lot of the urgency out of the music and makes the album sound completely plastic and lifeless at times (listen to Propagandhi's Today's Empires, Tomorrow's Ashes
or NOFX's Pump Up The Valuum
and you'll get the idea). Guitars are too low in the mix with too much treble and mid, with no bass or real definition. The drums sound like cardboard, making Rory Koff, normally a VERY hard-hitting drummer, sound weaker. Many times I wondered how much better a certain track would sound if mixed by, say, Brett Gurewitz (BR, NOFX, too many to mention) or even Brian McTernan (Thrice, Strike Anywhere).
However, with those facets of the album comes the paradox of also containing some of the fastest, hardest NUFAN tunes they've written in almost ten years. Tony's voice, while softer, is MUCH more consistent and incredibly melodic, which fit the songs perfectly. Atmospheric, ever-changing dynamics are also quite common on the album, far more than ony previous NUFAN release. Many times, the song will be very quiet, only to explode into a sing-along chorus out of nowhere. Rory's drumming is WAY improved - yes, he can play more than three beats! The album is also full of little subtlties... melodies, riffs, harmonies, etc. that you can't quite pick up on one listen - truly a headphones album. The lyrics are, like usual, extremely well-written, and unlike previous albums, VERY political. As a whole, this poppy, catchy album is full of angry, dark, melancholy melodies that are easily the most sophisticated NUFAN has yet recorded. And it's probably the most original thing they've done yet, an album which truly establishes a sound for a band long accused of unoriginality.
Confused yet? On to the music...
Track 1 - Part Two (3:35)
Starting right off the bat with a three-note melodic riff with more than a passing similarity to the intro of "Not Your Savior" (not a bad thing), this track is one of the faster songs on the album, and pretty upbeat, although the lyrics don't always reflect it. A song about - you'll never guess - a girl! Musically, however, the song is incredibly catchy, with some really great vocal harmonizing, catchy riffing, and... a cello solo (yes, a cello solo). Great opener for sure.
Track 2 - There Will Be Revenge (2:42)
A semi-quick punker, a little reminiscent of "Dumb Reminders", only lyrically much darker. Cool melody, but musically a little boring IMHO.
Track 3 - For Fiona (2:41)
The first single off of the album, and probably the most radio-friendly song No Use has recorded yet. While the lyrics are basically well-written relationship drivel, and yes, it's poppier than bubblegum, the chorus is simply so damn catchy you can't help but sing along to it while it burrows into your brain like a carnivorous ear mite. Pop, yes, but good
Track 4 - Check For A Pulse (2:36)
Starting off with one of Matt Riddle's ridiculously fast, galloping basslines and Tony singing quietly over it (think "Angela" from HRB
), the song then explodes into a fast punk song with incredible vocal harmonies and a melodic, shredderific solo from the much-underused Dave Nassie that fits the song PERFECTLY. The lyrics are equally great, dealing with the annoying tendency of people conform to the stigmas fed to them, to never "rock the boat" or speak up unless it's convenient or risk-free; "Free prescriptions of placebos for us all/We only stand/When it's safe to fall" is one of the most poignant lines I've heard in a long time. One of the best on the album, musically and lyrically.
Track 5 - Divine Let Down (1:41)
More of an interlude than a song, I first got a little worried when I heard the electric drumbeat and thought "Oh God, not another 'Room 19'", until Tony's melancholy, softly-sung verse cuts in with the acoustic guitar and ambient sounds, and it surprisingly fits quite well... even if it sounds like an anti-war Savage Garden song. Has the potential to be a great song, but a little too short.
Track 6 - Black Box (2:50)
A mid-tempo rocker that starts out extra quiet, with subdued guitars and a soft bassline and verse, until it explodes into the ultra-catchy chorus, which happens to have one of the greatest vocal melodies on the album, along with Sly's trademark metaphors that are all over the song ("Our worlds collide/In new beginnings/It's an emergency, permission to bail out/So when the heart crash lands/What memories will survive?/I'll bet my black box that I'm alive." Also a pretty nifty harmonized "solo" (a coulpe of unison bends, really) that fits the song great without having to go off on a space-trip shred. Just avoids being cheesy and instead kicks ass. Which brings me to...
Track 7 - Bullets (2:27)
Best song on the album by a mile. Short, fast, direct, in-your-face. The quickest song on KTC
, and probably the heaviest track (musically and lyrically) No Use has recorded since Making Friends
. It comes out of nowhere in the middle of the mid-tempo songs (switching it up nicely), has a fuckin' KILLER chord progression combined with a seemingly perfect octave melody on top of the whole thing, hits harder and faster than Mexican diarrhea, has amazing lyrics criticizing Christians' reliance on faith and the supernatural over physical reality ("And every word they preach is only opinion/That's why our love divides/Itself into a thousand pieces, like bullets/Shot in vain/Without sight)... and did I mention Riddle's insane
bass lines in the first verse? And Tony actually screams
in the outro (badly out of key, so thank God they didn't turn screamo), which ends it EXACTLY how it should end. I've listened to this track literally dozens of times in a row and it's still not boring. The energy on the song never lets up for an instant, which is, sadly, rare on this album.
Track 8 - Failing Is Easier (Part Three) (0:41)
An ambient interlude that segues into "Apparition". Oh yeah, and some Spanish chick is talking throughout it. Bridges "Bullets" and "Apparition" perfectly, and doesn't do much else.
Track 9 - Apparition (3:18)
Another mid-tempo rocker that starts out quiet, builds up with a cool-ass beat for the pre-chorus, and gets extra loud for the chorus. The instrumentation is quite beautiful in the intro/verses, containg synths, chorded bass, and quiet strumming - another example of No Use's love affair with dynamics on this record. The chorus is pretty good, but not quite as grabbing as the one in "Black Box" or "Bullets".
Track 10 - It's Tragic (3:24)
A sad, mid-tempo, hard-hitting punk song with a furious intro riff, leading into a minor-feel, palm-muted melody for the verses. A song that chronicles how hopeless and tragic it feels when you think you're the only one left with any sanity (presumably, sanity to not elect Bush, as evidenced by the "How could millions be so stupid?" line). The bridge showcases a sample of one of George Dubya's more telling Bushisms over a quiet, palm-muted variation of the intro riff, before exploding into the epic outro, a fade-out full of drum rolls, chaotic riffery, and staggered vox harmonies. One of my fave songs on the album.
Track 11 - Killing Time (2:58)
Another anti-war song that lyrically is a bit controversial in message (basically calling our soldiers sheep on a suicide mission), it is nevertheless a great track, and ond of the faster songs on the album. It sounds a bit like "Nailed Shut" off of Hard Rock Bottom
, but with much much better vocals and a WAAAAAY better chorus. And much better lyrics. "If an angel earns its wings/Everytime somebody dies/Let the angels' wings blacken out the blue sky". Unsettling and vivid.
Track 12 - Slowly Fading Fast (3:10)
A pretty basic, mid-tempo NUFAN track, but the chorus is extremely catchy, although a little too "earnest" sounding. Musically it's pretty standard, but there is a cool bass line in the bridge.
Track 13 - Overdue (3:14)
Starting out with a synth blast-beat sort of thing, the song then transforms abruptly into a slow, minor chord progression complete with octave chords, and some pretty heavy palm-muting (for No Use, anyways) in the verse over a nice "congo" beat. The main riff and verse melodies are definitely the highlights of the song, but the chorus falls a little flat, although it gets the job done.
Overall, I do enjoy the new No Use album, even if it's a little stale in spots. It does have a few clunkers on there, and I'm not too sure I like their new direction musically, but Bullets, Part Two, It's Tragic, Killing Time, Check For A Pulse, Black Box, and Overdue make the album worth buying. This is an album that really has to grow on you, but once it does, it's very rewarding. The horrible overproduction gets irritating pretty fast, however. But hey, Bullets kicks ass, too. So for the new No Use fan, pick up Making Friends
or Leche Con Carne
for their best work, but for the No Use vet, you can't go wrong with Keep Them Confused
. It IS No Use For A Name, so how different can they really sound?
Check For A Pulse