Review Summary: A tentative foray into unfamiliar territory produces mixed results.
After fifteen years, dark hearted Chicagoans Alkaline Trio have firmly cemented themselves as one of the biggest names in punk rock. Throughout all of their seven studio albums they have consistently churned out music ranging from solid pop-punk/punk-rock, to classics within the genre. With a discography as consistent as theirs they are a band truly deserving of a retrospective collection, or ‘greatest hits’. On ‘Damnesia’ however, the band pass up merely compiling their best work in its original glory. Instead, they have chosen to rework twelve tracks from throughout their career in a semi-acoustic format with the subtle addition of strings, pianos and synths; and also include three new tracks in a similar theme. While it is commendable they are eschewing a lazy, simple selection process in favour of artistic progression, it ultimately raises the question: is it necessary?
Of course, with a back catalogue as consistent as theirs, and with their song writing abilities, the twelve reworked tracks are versatile enough to be moulded in different styles respectably. However, the pervading feeling on ‘Damnesia’ all too often is one of half-baked re-imagination. While not bad
, the relatively basic acoustic versions of ‘Calling All Skeletons’
and ‘Private Eye’
feel particularly bland, and offer very little new. However, though similarly uninspired, the simplistic rendition of ‘Mercy Me’
benefits from the warm, rich sound of the acoustic guitars’ texturing. Furthermore, the matured croon and brilliant lyricism of Messrs Skiba and Andriano tend to rescue even ‘Damnesia’s more simplistic moments, as both vocalists have improved since last year’s ‘This Addiction’.
The three new tracks on ‘Damnesia’ suffer from similar problems, though they are enjoyable enough. ‘Olde English 800’
is a straightforward, acoustic ode to alcohol, and its cheery overtones give it an infectious nature; while ‘I Remember A Rooftop’
is a more forlorn tale of lovesickness delivered by Dan Andriano with only a guitar for company. The best of the three newbies though is their vibrant, whiskey-soaked cover of the Violent Femmes’ ‘I Held Her In My Arms’
– a genuinely fun, pop-punk number fully utilising acoustic guitars.
On ‘Damnesia’, Alkaline Trio are at their best when they are more ‘experimental’, giving old songs a new dimension. On ‘This Could Be Love’
the shrewd addition of pianos heightens the song’s sinister nature; while the distorted double bass in ‘We’ve Had Enough’
is an interesting focal point driving the song forward. The inclusion of the already-semi-acoustic ‘Every Thug Needs A Lady’
may seem a questionable, but ultimately its revamping with slight compositional changes; background piano lines and cute, tumbling guitar riffs pays off. Better yet is the dramatic reworking of ‘The American Scream’
with its miasmic synthesised chords painting a dark canvas over which staccato-ridden pianos build suspense even further.
Alkaline Trio should be very happy with their career so far. They have carved their own little niche in the world of pop-punk/punk-rock and their consistency over all these years has enabled them to maintain this position. However, until now their willingness to experiment has been somewhat lacking – although with their immediate realisation of potential so early in their career, who can blame them? Ultimately, ‘Damnesia’ is a tentative foray into unfamiliar territory and often the results are fairly uninspiring, sounding like lazily unchanged acoustic renditions of their dark punk-rock. However, the subtle tweaking of tracks such as ‘Every Thug Needs A Lady’ and the overwhelmingly pretty ‘You’ve Got So Far To Go’
salvage the album in elegant style. Furthermore, they suggest the ‘Trio have more skills at their disposal than captivating lyricism and power chord fury. Here’s to fifteen more years!