Review Summary: "Your voice like the sound of sirens to a house on fire - you're saving me!"
If one were to analyse the ‘average’ audience at an Alkaline Trio gig perhaps one of the most notable aspects would be the disproportionately high percentage of them with heart & skull tattoos. Now band tattoos are nothing new or remarkable, but it wouldn’t be too
naïve to consider them a fairly accurate gauge of a band’s significance to their fan base. After all, you wouldn’t get a tattoo if it was meaningless. Despite fleeting flirtations with the mainstream Alkaline Trio have never really been a ‘cool’ band to be a fan of, nor have they ever been especially ‘trendy’ to listen to. Rather they have enjoyed longevity and loyalty. But really, this ‘loyalty’ goes further than that, and goes further than ink – those who do
count themselves as fans, tend to love
them rather than just ‘like’ them, and connect with them on a uniquely deep personal level. However, many of these fans would justify this view based on the Trio’s earlier
albums, as opposed to more recent ventures; and with 1998’s ‘Goddamnit’ being their debut, it is perhaps the best example of why the Chicago natives attract such devotion.
To many however, Alkaline Trio will always be just another pop-punk/punk-rock band, as the immediate impression the band give is not a wholly positive one. True, the band are not
the most accomplished musicians (frontman Matt Skiba has joked he “can’t even play a C chord”), but one cannot deny the effort they put in to their craft. This is no more evident than on ‘Goddamnit’. Generally speaking, the musicianship is relatively simplistic, but the result of this is a lean album with little excess. However, when the band do
go that extra mile it is all the more exciting in contrast to the album’s relative simplicity. For example, all three members playing their hearts out in the extended outro in ‘Nose Over Tail’
is exhilarating, while the mature approach to song-writing found in ‘Trouble Breathing’
is both refreshing and engaging.
Furthermore, ‘Goddamnit’ exhibits Alkaline Trio in their early infancy and their youthful willingness to experiment in different approaches to song-writing and different mediums of presenting their music. The naked acoustics of ‘Enjoy Your Day’
, a tender admission of romantic defeat and best wishes, and ‘Sorry About That’
, a sincere apology for unwittingly causing heartbreak, both offer moments of diversity and endearing candidness. Ultimately however, Alkaline Trio specialise in uncomplicated, individualised punk rock, and it is tracks of this nature which tend to show the true side of Alkaline Trio’s musicianship. From the caustic guitars of ‘My Little Needle’
, and the rumbling bass lines of ‘Message From Kathlene’
, to the abundant, yet tasteful drum fills in ‘As You Were’
Messrs Skiba, Andriano and Porter provide points of interesting musicianship throughout. More importantly however, they provide a solid platform from which Alkaline Trio can deliver their unique lyrics –and it is these which have won so many devotees.
For many, Alkaline Trio’s lyrics have an uncanny ability to connect with their audience of already bitter, frustrated young people who retain a somewhat foolish sense of optimism. They often manage to do this in the space of a single line, or over the duration of an entire song, all the while exhibiting a dark sense of wit, imaginative use of metaphors, and an unhealthy obsession with drugs, alcohol and heartbreak. A line like “fine time to fake a seizure/to feel your mouth on mine” in ‘Nose Over Tail’
perfectly captures a sense of adolescent desperation; “praying for you to fall, I’m so pitiful” from ‘As You Were’
flawlessly details bitter jealousy. More impressive however, are the songs which use their full length to proclaim Skiba’s thoughts: anxiety and infatuation in ‘Clavicle’
, hopeless lovesickness and loyal devotion in ‘Message From Kathlene’
, and the cruel combination of love- and homesickness in ‘San Francisco’
Ultimately, ‘Goddamnit’ is the perfect album to demonstrate the reasons for Alkaline Trio fans’ devotion to the band. Fans looking for jaw-dropping musical ability need not apply, though the band do provide an interesting focal point throughout; the real appeal of Alkaline Trio lies in the strength of their lyrics. The honesty with which Skiba (and Andriano on ‘Enjoy Your Day’
and ‘Message From Kathlene’
) pens lyrics about drugs, drink, depression, death, love and hatred is outstanding, and it has clearly struck a chord with their fan base. The idea expressed in ‘My Little Needle’
of being unable to find someone truly special due to looking too hard may ring true in some aspects of life, but not when it comes to Alkaline Trio. Those who see them for what they truly are - a uniquely talented group of genius lyricists and passionate musicians - and who connect with them, have fallen nose over tail for them.