Review Summary: “If this is salvation, I can show you the trembling.”
A value is only a mindset. In order for a belief to transcend its existence as naught but a mere intention, it must be practiced…and for the greater portion of the epoch we refer to as human existence, we have all been saying one thing and then doing another. How many people claim a religion, but only follow its ways when it would have immediately favorable results for them
? How many, in an attempt to make a quick fortune, have exploited the values of people in desperate and dire situations without feeling so much as a drop of remorse? Many of us contradict our morals on a less devious level by simply standing by and watching as injustices transpire. As we hide behind the guise of altruism, we fail to follow through on our beliefs with tangible action. It is a bleak aspect of our society that Anberlin front man Stephen Christian is all too familiar with, having sparked some of the most powerful and emotive songs to grace the alternative rock scene this side of the millennium. Whereas the band’s prior endeavors dealt primarily with surface level issues such as broken relationships and betrayal, Cities
is an album ripe with commentary of a more pensive nature. With topics ranging from faith to a loss of innocence, Cities
proves Anberlin to be a band mature beyond its years.
The pinnacle of the album, and the undeniable epicenter of its urgent call for action, is the climactic closer ‘Fin.’ By now, fans of Anberlin are well-versed in the ways of Christian’s lyrics. However, what they may not
know is the story behind those words, and what brought them into fruition throughout years of emotionally embattled labor. As a child, Stephen experienced hardship and misfortune firsthand. His religious beliefs were challenged time and time again, from witnessing a couple that missed out on what he called “a promised miracle” from God to watching a person he described as a mentor leave his family in shambles for the sake of “mission work”, which turned out to be a false cover to abandon them. Christian has gone on record as saying that even at the tender age of eight, he thought that “it would be better that God and the devil would just both leave him alone.” The song itself matches the poignancy of its lyrical depth, with crystal clear acoustic guitars that accentuate Christian’s storytelling abilities and a spine-tingling children’s choir that repeats the line, “patron saint, are we all lost like you?” The gradual progression and slow build up in intensity also complement the mood of 'Fin’, from the gentle undertones that accompany the line “you’ll just have to trust me, I’m scared” to the chaotic static in the background of Christian’s desperate wail, “this is not my heaven, this is my hell.” Having endured adversity on multiple levels, Christian uses ‘Fin’ to detail not only his own childhood demons, but also the ones that continue to undermine and corrupt a world that has begun to crumble at the hands of deceit.
The spike in maturity is not limited to ‘Fin’, however, as many other tracks stray outside the usual topics of pop-oriented alternative rock. ‘Unwinding Cable Car’ is another song full of absolutely brilliant lyrical excerpts, as it appears to once again deal with Stephen Christian’s struggles with faith and the temptation to walk away from God altogether. In what is Cities
’ most prominent acoustic track, it shows us Anberlin at their most melodic and memorable, offering a dynamic acoustic strumming/picking interchange and unforgettable lines such as, “Don’t you believe that you’ve been deceived? You’re no better than the hair in your eyes, it never disguised what you’re really thinking of.” Compared to Anberlin’s pre-2007 material, ‘Unwinding Cable Car’ is essentially new territory, and despite the unique direction they take with this track, they hit the nail on the head with their very first try. The other chief acoustic song on Cities
, ‘Inevitable’, just might be one of the best love ballads you will hear in your lifetime. It commences rather abnormally with nothing but a bass line, but that bass is eventually joined by distant chimes, gorgeous acoustic guitars, and Stephen’s sensitive, breathtaking serenades of “I want to break every clock, the hands of time could never move again…we could stay in this moment for the rest of our lives” and “I want to be your last first kiss.” If you have emotions, ‘Inevitable’ will surely move you.
’ true opener, ‘Godspeed’ (which follows the interlude, ‘Debut’) is yet another instance of Anberlin’s fluid progression, featuring a raucous electric guitar riff, borderline screamed/shouted verses and choruses, and by far the most infectious sing along line, “They lied when they said the good die young!” More subtle undertones of growth can be found in the well-executed and perfectly timed guitar solo, along with the chilling whisper of “God save the eyes that dim tonight” before the second go-around of the chorus that erupts in all of its splendor. In short, it makes following Stephen Christian’s heartfelt narrations a lot more enjoyable when you can’t stop shaking from side to side and pumping your fist to the music that accompanies it. That alone illustrates how Anberlin’s songwriting ability has progressed every bit as much as Christian’s lyricism. But for all of its emotional weight and seriousness, Cities
is still overflowing with songs that are just plain fun
. In the midst of incredible, career-defining highlights such as ‘Fin’, ‘Godspeed’, ‘Dismantle.Repair’, ‘Unwinding Cable Car’, and ‘Inevitable’, it can be easy to overlook the infectious chorus of ‘Adelaid’, the rise-and-fall tempo of ‘Alexithymia’, or the synth-driven ‘There Is No Mathematics to Love or Loss.’ It would be a grave mistake to dismiss these as filler tracks just because they differ in approach compared to the songs that cover more solemn topics. It is the variety on Cities
that makes the album such a cohesive work, and its penchant for alternating between existential matters and light-hearted themes allows both song styles to stand out with more clarity.
As a whole, Cities
shows Anberlin coming to a crossroads between youth and maturity and creating an absolute masterpiece of both. The lyrics will often challenge your virtues and compel change on an extremely personal level, and the amount of raw passion that is poured into songs like ‘Fin’ and ‘Unwinding Cable Car’ is so vast that it can hardly be contained within a singular level of meaning. While the entire band is spot on for Cities
’ entire duration, it is Stephen Christian’s lyrical and vocal performance that makes this a modern classic. His firsthand accounts of just how cruel and perverse this world can be are poetry not only to be beheld, but also to be acted upon. One can sense the urgency in his voice hoping that listeners will sever the cumbersome weights of malevolence that hold down society like a sickness, and bring salvation to the trembling. Maybe, if we work together, this won’t be a lost cause after all.