Review Summary: Matt Skiba may be singing "Help Me" but the Trio doesn't need any help when it comes to writing damn good songs.
Nearly three years have passed since Alkaline Trio gave us "Crimson" in 2005. It was a departure from their roots as a pop-punk act and focused on darker melodies, lyrics and almost had a gothic or alternative feel to its landscape. Needless to say, "Crimson" was still a great record with enough hooks to get caught in your mouth so I have anxiously been awaiting "Agony And Irony" since I heard one of the singles from the album "In Vein" in April on the band's Myspace page. I was not disappointed in the least.
There was, of course, a controversy before the release of this album with Alkaline Trio ditching Vagrant Records and signing with major label heavy weights Epic. Being called sell outs by die-hard fans is never a good thing but it appears to me that many people have overlooked the fact that the band has always had the capability to sell a great deal of records and generate a huge fan base (not like they haven't already) so switching to a major just seems like the most logical move at this point in their career. If selling out entails having a large audience then they sold out a long, long time ago.
The nay sayers can nay all they'd like but "Agony And Irony" shows a return to form for Alkaline Trio. The more than radio friendly songs are still present but the songs laced with alcoholism and drug use have returned while still progressing instead of back tracking like so many bands do when one style doesn't work out. The opening track "Calling All Skeletons" begins with Matt Skiba's croon to the tune of a very upbeat guitar riff. This is how most of the record will fare as it plays on, the Trio never going faster than a mid-paced tempo but you don't have to play fast to have damn good songs and "Agony And Irony" is full of them. "Help Me", another single, has infectious melody and will be stuck in your head as soon as the song ends. The jazzy influence of "In Vein" is probably one of the strangest songs they have constructed but it hits hard with Dan Andriano's lyrics "I could feel my stomach rotting, you were so supportive as I drank through the pain" amongst many other memorable lines.
Dan only has four songs here which is a shame because his voice has improved ten fold and sounds better than ever. With Skiba dominating "Agony And Irony" the murky subjects of death, heart break and pessimism are explored throughout but sometimes the choruses are repeated one too many times kind of beating you in the head with the same phrase over and over again. Despite this sometimes annoying quality, you can look past it without even noticing most of the time and it becomes second nature to your ears. Melody is a huge part of the album, using synthesizers on "I Found Away", "Over And Out" and a few others making it similar but still very different from "Crimson". Matt Skiba's vocals are almost unrecognizable at first but as the tracks keep counting down you start to feel like you're listening to Matt on "Good Mourning".
Speaking of "Good Mourning", there are two songs that sound like they could have been written at that period in 2003. "Ruin It" and "Into The Night" are downright nostalgic, especially the latter. This is also the first Alkaline Trio record to end with an upbeat number where as so many others had a slower song or acoustic track as an outro.
"Agony And Irony" will most definitely be a major let down for the fans that hated "Crimson" and still want "Goddamnit" or "From Here To Infirmary" but if you're still waiting you should realize it's never going to happen. "Agony And Irony" is probably one of the best releases of this year, at least in my opinion and shows a band that used to play basements and bars growing up and taking on the world. If you've stuck with these guys through every record you won't be disappointed either. Alkaline Trio have matured with their song writing and you can hear it in every aspect of this record. So go out and get it.