Review Summary: The Used appear to have run out of steam.
I truly believe Vulnerable
’s title is a reference to their audience. You see, the Used’s fifth album came as a complete and total shock to those who’ve been following the band. For those who haven’t, I’ll provide a recap. The Used were one of the cornerstones of the screamo wave that rose up during the 2000’s. They released an abrasive self-titled debut in 2002 that showcased an ability to bring pop sensibilities to aggressive post-hardcore. Then, in 2004, they inspired Warped Tour attending teens everywhere to tattoo hearts hanging from trees on themselves (this reviewer included) with their more polished sophomore album, In Love And Death
. In 2007, they released Lies For The Liars
which had the band exploring a wide array of studio experimentation and seemed to foreshadow a future in which the Used got caught up with frivolous arrangements and forgot the vitriol that once possessed their songs. However, the Used were perfectly content to prove the naysayers wrong and in 2009, they released their most stripped down and arguably best album. Artwork
has been described as gross pop by the band and I think this is perfectly apt; it captures the twisted nature of the songs as well as their simplicity. It seemed the Used had matured past gimmicks and gotten to the core of what made them great in the first place, an amalgamation of aggressiveness and catchiness. By the end of 2011, the Used had also cut off their major label connections by leaving Reprise Records and starting their own imprint, Anger Music Group, on independent label Hopeless Records. The stage seemed set for the Used to release a violent, dark record the major labels would have never approved of.
is not that violent, dark record. Vulnerable
is not even an attempt at making that record. No, instead of moving forward with gross pop, the Used seemed to have taken a step back and made the sequel to their third album, Lies For The Liars
. It’s almost as if the Used that made Artwork
were from an alternate dimension and only entered ours to give us one glimpse of the Used that could be, after all, it’s their only release to not feature John Feldmann producing. Despite its similar one word title, Vulnerable
carries nothing of its predecessors traits.
has the nauseating air of a band struggling to stay relevant, desperately incorporating all the elements the kids are really into these days. Instead of focusing on what makes them sound good, they’ve focused on what makes other artists sound good. This seems to be the reason for the opening track, I Come Alive
, which sounds like it was written after someone locked the Used up with nothing but the latest Skrillex release for a couple days. Hands and Faces
suffers from this as well, but gains points for the soft atmospheric bridge that almost redeems it.
There are a few bright spots on the album and the brightest of them is Now That You’re Dead
, where WiL Francis of Aiden and William Control joins the Used for a hardcore infused romp that also features a creepy opening reminiscent of [i]The Best Of Me[ /i]. In fact, the more aggressive tracks are mostly safe from meddling and serve as the highlights of the album. But, even these breaths of fresh air seem stale, as though the Used are just running through the motions. As though they’re just throwing in a heavy one for the head-bangers and mosh pit lovers. Compare Sound Effects And Overdramatics
off their second album to this album’s Put Me Out
; on the former when Bert howls “Kill! Smile! Cut it out for me this time!” you want to scream with him, on the latter when he yells “You put me out like a cigarette”, you just want to ask what the *** he’s talking about.
Though “you put me out like a cigarette” is far from the only ridiculous line on Vulernable
. Nearly every track features either clichés of the highly overdone variety or lines that sound like the ramblings of someone who showed up to record vocals but forgot the real lyrics. Singer Bert McCracken has always worn his heart on his sleeve and sung honestly about the variety of doubts that cloud his mind, but here it seems as though he’s run out of ammo and relying on tropes and nonsense.
Maybe the Used are just a band that work best when in pain. Their self-titled was their salvation from homelessness, their sophomore album came after the death of McCracken’s pregnant ex-girlfriend, and Artwork
was produced during a period of great stress from their label and McCracken has said he was incredibly depressed during that time. Whatever the reason, it’s obvious the Used have nothing important to say with Vulnerable
. However, I can’t even begin to speculate what the future holds for Bert McCracken, Quinn Allman, Jeph Howard, and Dan Whitesides. I still hold hope for them, Artwork
proves that they can still be relevant, but I don’t know if they’ll move past gimmickry and into something greater. I sure hope so.