Review Summary: Despite a lack of individually memorable songs & a little immediacy, this album comes together nicely as an impressively energetic & surprisingly accessible package of punk, hardcore & rock that will reward the patient.
Punk… It is not a genre which has struck a huge chord with me over the years. There have been a few tracks here and there that have engaged me, but in the main I haven’t been able to be drawn into a group of songs pieced together to form an album. Some may question me even placing Rise Against in the genre, feeling they are just as much in the hardcore or post-hardcore area. Either/or really as my opening comment is still relevant to almost as much of an extent.
With 2 hardcore punk albums behind them, Rise Against cross over to the apparent dark side of a major label with their 3rd release ‘Siren Song of the Counter Culture’. And what a revelation the move proves to be with an excellent mixture of hardcore punk and melodic accessibility being the result. But there is something a little deeper here. Melodic punk has always existed, but there is some other (secret) ingredient(s) apparent on this album to make it even more of an achievement. This may not strike you upon the first few listens, but eventually wears you down as layer upon layer is discovered on subsequent experiences.
Just in case anyone forgot the band’s past though, the opening ‘State of the Union’ reminds you quick smart. A frenetic rapid-fire hardcore romp that lyrically criticizes present-day life, this is probably the track that contains the most screaming on the album. Needless to say, it is a live favorite. Things are slightly toned down as ‘The First Drop’ acts as a bridge of sorts to 3rd single ‘Life Less Frightening’. A more conventionally structured track, this almost has a standard alt-rock feel to it, but keeps the underlying punk traits that make it rather interesting, even if diehard punk fans may think it bland.
One of the reasons why the album may reveal itself on further listens is due to the very good lyrics throughout. Many of the lyrics are politically motivated to some extent, but are nowhere near over the top. In a historical sense, the genre has always been propelled by rebellion, but there are effective ways which Rise Against go about making their points. Elsewhere, the simplicity and lack of complicated metaphors is actually refreshingly pleasant. The aforementioned ‘Life Less Frightening’ is a good example with its chorus being “I don’t ask for much, truth be told I’d settle for a life less frightening”.
Musicianship throughout the album is not technically outstanding, but there is sufficient variation and enough flashes of winning riffs and chords in the guitar work when all is said and done. Track 4 ‘Paper Wings’ is a good example of this, as is ‘Tip The Scales’ and the closer ‘Rumors of My Demise Have Been Greatly Exaggerated’. What these 3 tracks also have in common are choruses that are satisfactorily catchy and with a good sing-along feel to them. Once more, it may not be apparent on first listen, but they eventually wear you down.
While some tracks are clearly better than others, Rise Against thankfully never let the listener settle on this album. ‘Blood To Bleed’ and ‘Anywhere But Here’ are 2 mid-album tracks that don’t do a great deal for me, even though they are arguably polar opposites in pace and style. Fortunately, the closing quartet does a great job in serving up a literal smorgasbord of variety and the album is all the better for it.
The short and loud ‘Give It All’ was the interesting choice as the first single off the album. While being structured very much like a hardcore punk track, it reminds me of a harder version of many Offspring songs, so it is controlled enough to appeal to the more casual rock fan. ‘Dancing For Rain’ follows with it’s false acoustic beginning leading to more frenetic pacing, but where this track stands out is it’s almost (for want of a better word) poppier feel mixed in with the punk/rock elements. It’s a clear pointer to the future of the band and is arguably comparable to more than a few songs from AFI.
And then there is the penultimate track ‘Swing Life Away’. A raw acoustic ballad, I was genuinely surprised that the raspily voiced Tim McIlrath was able to pull off such a song so successfully. Simplicity is once more the name of the game lyrically and it is ultimately effective. “We live on front porches and swing life away… We get by just fine here on minimum wage…” begins the chorus as it is obvious to see that this band and album are specifically and unashamedly aimed at the common working class battler.
Overall, ‘Siren Song of the Counter Culture’ is an achievement which Rise Against should be proud of. The album is even and works better as a whole because I wouldn’t call many of the individual tracks memorably outstanding. In fact, that is probably this LP’s greatest downfall. There is also a little lack of immediacy about the album, so first-time listeners (especially those who aren’t huge fans of the occasional screaming vocals) please be warned. But those who are patient will eventually be rewarded as this album really does contain an above-average mix of good musicianship, catchy songs and effective lyrics. It all comes together nicely as an impressively energetic and surprisingly accessible package of punk, hardcore and rock all rolled into one.
Recommended Tracks: Swing Life Away, Life Less Frightening, Dancing For Rain & Paper Wings.