Review Summary: Alkaline Trio create another gritty, emotional record with a little radio polish to top it all off.
Let's go back to 1998. Alkaline Trio, the punk group emerging from Chicago, burst onto the scene in a gritty display. Their debut record "Goddamnit" set the tone for what would become their sole purpose in the music industry -- Creating dark, gloomy, yet still incredibly catchy music with a keen precision. Fast forward two more years and we're served another dose of grisly wit with "Maybe I'll Catch Fire". With this outing they soon proved to be a force to be reckoned with; an intelligent and morbid front-man and his partner in crime. Indeed, Matt Skiba (guitar, vocals) and Dan Andriano (bass, vocals) are the backbone of the group. With the drummer position in constant flux, they held the group together until finally Derek Grant joined to form the trio that we know today. A mere year after "Maybe I'll Catch Fire", the trio returns with their third studio album "From Here To Infirmary". As expected, everything that the group has been adored for in the past returns in full force, if not a little watered down.
The album has been criticized for being a tamer effort than what they've put out in the past, and in some instances that's easily agreeable. With "Armageddon"'s sing-along chorus and catchy rhythm, it could be labeled as a radio song with ease. However, when listening to a song like "Another Innocent Girl", you get a somber, heartfelt number that can really stick with you with its beautiful imagery and gloomy melody. Each bitter melody and angry shout sprinkled throughout the record is a testament to their past work and each, dare I say, "mainstream" friendly guitar lick and rhythm brings forth a newer, cleaner Alkaline Trio.
Musical progression is a must if you want to stay away from stagnancy, and that I believe is what this album is attempting to accomplish. The adept lyricism and shadowy moods are still present, but with a coat of polish and a step outside the box from what the trio has pumped out previously. Take a song like "You're Dead", Skiba uses his pristine songwriting to convey his message but is still cunning in his presentation. The line "If assholes could fly/This place would be busier than O'Hare" is one of the writing gems scattered throughout the course of the record -- And while some of the lines can be pretty silly, such as the ending to "Mr. Chainsaw" where Skiba proclaims "In case you're wondering we're singing about growing up", you still get a relatively serious and lyrically well-executed record.
Perhaps the most enjoyable portion of the record is every track where Dan is leading. This album marks where he hits his peak as both a lyricist and musician. Besides supplying some really great bass lines (Steamer Trunk, Bloodied Up), he displays some of the best lyricism to come from the band at the time. On "Take Lots With Alcohol" his vocal sincerity is unmatched up until the conclusion. You can savor the emotion pouring from him as he wails his bleak lyrics about alcoholism. The theme is present throughout most of the record but isn't nearly as emotionally drenched as it is when Dan appears once again on the conclusion, "Crawl". This is definitely one of the high moments of the entire album. The way Dan builds the song to the perfect intensity simply inspires you to experience the heart-wrenching tale he weaves so intricately.
Musically, the group is as simple as they've always been. The distorted guitar and sludgy bass is always in your face, though never too over-powering. While this has always been one of the weaker points of the group, they take advantage of the simplicity here to create some very catchy songs. "Bloodied Up" is a fine example of this, with a smooth bass line and repetitive guitar chords underneath Matt's relatively smooth (in comparison to earlier work) vocals. You get a real sense of the band's earlier sound with the ever-moving rhythm and constantly pounding instruments. On the flip-side of that, "Trucks And Trains" takes advantage of crescendo to make another musically effective track with some pretty solid lyrics as well.
Of the several aforementioned catchy songs on the record, there's one that stands out as above par in contrast to the rest of the album. "Stupid Kid", being one of the best f**k you songs I've heard, gives you that feeling in your gut; that slowly building tension that inspires you to scream the chorus with Skiba. It's these moments that remind you why you're listening to Alkaline Trio. They're bitter connoisseurs in the punk genre and never fail to make you feel all that gut-turning anger and heart-wrenching agony that they convey so sublimely. It's a relatively simple record and they're not reaching for the stars musically, but for what it is there isn't much disappointment. Despite a few slip-ups, "From Here To Infirmary" will go down as one of my favorites of all time, for more personal reasons than anything, and as one of Alkaline Trio's catchiest efforts to date.