Review Summary: An album with little appeal, little reasoning behind its lack of quality, and worst of all, uncertainty for the future.
Major label deals always cause a bit of controversy within a band's fanbase. Sometimes, like in Green Day's Dookie
, a band's major label debut will wind up being the band's most highly regarded album. Other bands, however, like Anti-Flag, will take a major label deal only top put out some of the worst albums in their career. When Rise Against signed to Geffen in 2003, leaving behind Fat Wreck Chords, many of their fans worried that their sound would become mainstream, and lose the hardcore elements of their brilliant first two albums. Luckily, the band's next two albums were great, even if their sound was more refined than their predecessors. Maybe signing with a major label wasn't a complete mistake for Rise Against.
If only they hadn't realized Appeal to Reason
Everything that the fans had feared about joining a major label were completely present on this album. Siren Song
’s sound may have both been easily more polished than RPM
, but at least they still had their bursts of hardcore moments in them (“State of the Union”, “Give It All”). Yet with Appeal to Reason
, you could barely even remember that Rise Against were once a punk band. All thirteen tracks on this album were made to be played on mainstream rock radio, and the album’s singles actually granted Rise Against some of their biggest hits in their entire career. Most of the songs on Appeal
sound like they could have been from Three Days Grace, Breaking Benjamin or any other mainstream rock outfit.
Above all things, the worst part is that Tim McIlrath just sounds bored most of the time. Albums like Revolutions per Minute
or Sufferer & the Witness
were great mainly because of his energetic vocals and screams. But on Appeal
, his voice is drained of all energy and passion that he had on previous albums. When he cries, “We are the children you reject and disregard” on “From Heads Unworthy”, he does it with such monotony and dullness, making it hard to believe and/or relate to what he has to say. Similarly, his yell of “A crack in the surface, a flaw in the plan” on “Hairline Fracture” would be relatable if he actually sang it like he meant it, and not like he wanted to finish the recording session as fast as he could.
The worst part of the album is easily its middle section. From “The Dirt Whispered” to “Entertainment”, Appeal to Reason
slaps you in the ear over and over again with boring mainstream radio filler that all sound the same. The worst offender is “Audience of One”, one of Rise Against’s slowest songs in their entire discography. It’s boring, it’s cheesy, and it drags on for four minutes, achieving nothing but mainstream success. “We ran away, now all my friends are gone”, croons McIlrath, and he’s right. By running away from their signature punk rock sound, they lost thousands of loyal supporters. Another screw-up was “Entertainment”, which has a peculiar polka-style bridge that doesn’t fit in at all with the rest of the mediocre radio rock song. Even “Hero of War”, an acoustic ballad, is ruined by its horrible lyrics about soldiers who commit war crimes in the Middle East. It has a nice concept, but “They took off his clothes and pissed in his hands”, is just cringe-inducing and completely unnecessary.
Even through all the crap that the album offers, Rise Against still put out some of that magic that was present in previous albums. “Collapse (Post-Amerika)” opens the album with a fiery, past-faced punk tune that boasts an incredibly catchy chorus and bridge. “Re-Education (Through Labor)” manages to overcome its mainstream sound and become one of the most infectious songs on the album, complete with an excellent guitar riff and lyrics about the struggle to make ends meet. “Savior” is probably the song that people recognize Rise Against for, and it’s pretty easy to see why. With a fast and furious guitar riff, great vocals and decent lyrical matter about a troubled relationship, “Savior” is a well-crafted punk song that is reminiscent of RPM
, with its fast tempo and powerful vocals. Lastly, “Whereabouts Unknown” closes out the album on a strong note, almost making up for all of its weaknesses. It starts out slowly, building up energy, before the song’s infectious guitar riff comes in. When Tim cries, “These whereabouts unknown, please know you can come home; it’s alright, it’s alright”, you can feel the emotion and yearning in his voice, especially during the more subdued sections of the song. To top it all off, Tim pulls some excellent screams in the song’s bridge. It’s moments like this that would have been made a disappointing album more tolerable.
Appeal to Reason
is easily Rise Against’s worst effort yet. With only four good songs and around ten forgettable and boring ones, this album has little to no lasting value. Its highlights may be extraordinary, but when the rest is just repetitive, monotonous mainstream rock that isn’t worth a second listen, why bother? Rise Against seem to be stretching out their audience into the radio listeners, because I wouldn’t be surprised if “Audience of One” got daily play on my local radio station. I would have been surprised if “Give It All” was played even once, but the past is the past, and the sound that worked so well for them on Siren Song
should have been the sound that was on Appeal
. I can understand Zach Blair is a pretty great guitarist, especially since this is his first album with the band. And, as always, Joe Principe and Brandon Barnes are stellar with the bass and drums. Yet, in the end, the album’s appeals are far and wide, and the band’s reasons for adopting a more mainstream sound are unknown. Rise Against can try to recapture the legacy of their glory days, but those are far behind them, and what’s ahead is uncertain.