Review Summary: The Used make some adjustments in their sound and end up with an album that will require a few listens to really sink in.
The guys in The Used have accomplished quite a bit, and have a lot they can be proud of. Over the course of their career they’ve written a number of great songs and released a collection of diverse albums. This diversity, coupled with a great live show, helped their albums achieve gold and even platinum status and allowed them to headline around the globe. Despite these accomplishments, though, the one thing the band hadn’t pulled off was an album that didn’t contain any filler – although Lies for the Liars
came close. It turns out that they just needed one more attempt in order to finally reach that goal because Artwork
consists entirely of great songs and it is, again, slightly different than previous albums.
Moving forward from Lies for the Liars
, the band made a conscious effort to scale back the studio tricks and return to the guitar-dominated direction of their debut. In doing so, the songs on Artwork
take on a more streamlined feel due to the lack of jolting transitions that were often created by the electronic elements. It’s not only the lack of jarring transitional elements that cause the songs to feel more streamlined, it’s also the band’s increased focus on crafting memorable songs. In order to adhere to the band’s pop direction, the songs don’t feature many raging screams or aggressive moments and also aren’t prone to random changes in direction. This focus on making every song very listener friendly may cause initial disappointment among longtime fans but the screams, creative songwriting, and the band’s quirky personality are still intact – albeit in a subtler capacity.
Subtlety has never been a huge part of The Used’s sound, but it is an integral part of this album. A lot of the creative songwriting elements, edgy screams, and peculiar melodies are layered beneath the main vocal and guitar parts which make the songs a little less instant than fans might be used to. That statement isn’t meant to imply that these elements aren’t also found at the forefront of certain songs, but they’re definitely not as prominent as they used to be. This emphasis on strong hooks combined with a subtle musical backing may lead to an initial conclusion that the album is lacking emotion or energy, but those should only be temporary judgments. Additional listens will lead to an increased familiarity with the album’s nuances, which should eventually cause any negative opinions to change. Besides, there is plenty to enjoy on this album, even on the first listen.
For those hoping to hear the post hardcore sounds of the band’s debut there is the opener, “Blood on My Hands” and “The Best of Me” which feature the most prominent screams and aggressive guitar playing. For those looking for the lighter pop of In Love and Death
there are the instant hooks of “Watered Down” and the power ballad “Kissing You Goodbye”. There’s also plenty of Lies for the Liars
’ experimentation in songs such as “Empty With You” and “Come Undone”. The thing is that although these songs take some influence from the different albums, they don’t sound like they’re merely rehashes of those releases. Again, the big difference is the “maturity” found in the writing and the slick, refined feel of the songs themselves. These songs don’t have any extraneous parts, awkward sections or filler – instead they’re streamlined and crafted to make every moment count.
It’s a strong possibility that a lot of hardcore fans are going to have problems dealing with the restraint that is exercised on this album. It’s possible that they’re going to be upset that the band’s more dissonant moments have been (mostly) moved to a supporting role. It’s also a definite possibility that those same people are going to lament the streamlined sound that the band uses on this album. All of these things are possible, but none of them should be considered permanent problems. The Used have taken the best elements of their previous releases, refined them and delivered the strongest album of their career – an album that displays a subtle maturity in their songwriting that requires more than a single passive listen to fully grasp. The strong choruses are there to draw the listener in, but beneath that is a layer of musical complexity that will lend this album a longevity that should keep people coming back for more.