Review Summary: Alk3 would not know how to make a bad album, but This Addiction sees them well past their best.
When it comes to punk rock, one would be hard pressed to find an outfit as consistent as Chicago’s Alkaline Trio. For twelve years now, they have recorded half a dozen outstanding albums, as well as a couple of impressive compilation LPs. The secret to their longevity has been in successfully making subtle adjustments to their core strengths with each passing release. Of course, not everyone can always be pleased and some loyal fans have jumped ship with the band’s most recent output getting progressively poppier. With 2008 effort ‘Agony & Irony’ not exactly catapulting Alk3 to the mainstream riches of Green Day, it is not surprising to see them return to the past - recording in their hometown, using their old producer, and even forming an independent record label - to release their latest album ‘This Addiction’.
The rollicking momentum of the title track and lead single kicks things off on an effective note and suggests that the balance of old and new which Alkaline Trio are searching for could well be achieved. Along with ‘Lead Poisoning’ and ‘The American Scream’, these highlight tracks display Matt Skiba’s simple, but effectively catchy, guitar-playing that makes teenagers all around the world want to learn to strum six strings for a living. Furthermore, Dan Andriano’s bass-lines are as sublime as ever, being able to occasionally lull the listener into concentrating on nothing but his work. Regrettably, despite the album’s title, the lack of addictive hooks elsewhere is a letdown, with too many songs passing by with nothing more than ambivalence.
Hooks did not exactly play a defining role in the trio’s earlier releases either. Those albums predominantly succeeded on the back of the bands passion, energy and trademark dark lyrics being integrated into seemingly effortless raw melodies. While all those traits exist in scattered grabs throughout ‘This Addiction’, they appear more forced than previously. This is especially the case with Skiba’s integral lyrics, which simply aren’t as memorable as they once were. Andriano’s lyrics seem far more natural in fitting to the matured personal themes, but while the three tracks on which he performs vocals are likely to appeal to fans of their earlier work, even they come off as nothing significantly more than solid.
‘This Addiction’ is not entirely devoid of some new ideas and production techniques, but the results are once more mixed. The aforementioned ‘Lead Poisoning’ surprises with a trumpet solo that productively accentuates its melodic hook, while synths are used in mid-album duo ‘Draculina’ and ‘Eating Me Alive’, both of which sound a little out of place and are sure to be as polarizing as certain singles from AFI’s ‘Decemberunderground’. The concern is that even these ingredients seem a little half-hearted and a compromised attempt to satisfy as many of their fans as possible. Skiba does not hide the fact that most of these songs were written quickly, and it often shows.
Preceded by Skiba comments such as “the vibe is similar to our humble beginnings” and “there’s definitely some old sounding Alkaline Trio to this record”, longtime fans have understandably been anticipating ‘This Addiction’ for some months now. While such press quotes are usually far off the mark, Skiba was not lying. With its return to a more straight-forward approach, ‘This Addiction’ does hark back to the likes of ‘Goddamnit’ and ‘Maybe I’ll Catch Fire’. Unfortunately, while not being a bad album, it is not a patch on those seminal earlier releases…. Simply a solid recycling of their much-loved sound.
Recommended Tracks: The American Scream, Lead Poisoning & This Addiction.