Review Summary: Over and over, these thoughts run through my head.Chapter II: This Time Anberlin Gets Personal
Every band has that one
song that becomes the subject of debate and criticism. Maybe it’s the song that launched them into the mainstream, or perhaps it was the one that saw them deviating from their typical sound. Anberlin’s claim to fame came when “Feel Good Drag” reached the top of the charts – in 2009. There’s been endless arguing over whether the original version of the song (titled “The
Feel Good Drag”) on Never Take Friendship Personal
or the rewritten one on New Surrender
is better, and while each side has its own pros and cons, the dispute over which variant of the track has seemed to overshadow the greatness of the song itself. Stephen Christian’s vocal transitions and adrenalized screams are the backbone of the track, along with Joseph Milligan’s slow but sweet solo. The song holds a special place in my heart – it was the first Anberlin song and I had ever heard, and it unfurled me into the rest of the band’s discography.
The best thing about Never Take Friendship Personal
is how it shows the band’s evolution from youthful innocence into a darker, more reflective sound. Even though Blueprints From the Black Market
was a great album, it showed some signs of immaturity and juvenile lyrical content. The change in tone and subject matter could be a result of more tempestuous life experiences: the teenagers from Blueprints
grew up, experiencing more painful escapades. The aggression of songs like “The Feel Good Drag” and the title track is what drives the passion in Christian’s vocals, creating an outlet for him to pour his emotions out.
Although Anberlin’s debut suffered from its youthful sound being driven into the ground, Never Take Friendship Personal
improves on the band’s main flaw by adding some much needed diversity. The songs where they try and emulate their old sound end up being the album’s weakest moments – the middle stretch consisting of lead single “A Day Late”, “The Runaways” and “Time & Confusion” completely kill the increasing momentum. The former comes off as a lesser “Change the World (Lost Ones)”, with its banal vocals and lack of memorabiliity – in fact, it even repeats the arc phrase ‘we are’. They aren’t bad songs per se
, but they do fall short compared to highlights like “Audrey, Start the Revolution!” and the title track.
Never Take Friendship Personal
had Anberlin exploring new things that would soon become album staples on future releases, from lengthy closers to moving ballads. The record’s diversity reaches a peak at “The Symphony of Blasé”, which sees Anberlin doing something they had never done before. The stripped-down arrangement creates a melancholy atmosphere, allowing Stephen Christian’s emotional vocals to shine even more. It’s a nice contrast from the high energy jams, showing off the band’s sensitive side while still retaining the passion that made them such so great. “Dance, Dance Christa Päffgen” marks the first of the band’s epic closers, and although it may not be good as “(*Fin)”, the touching tribute to the late German singer Nico still strikes all the right chords with its moving lyrics about drug abuse, melancholic vocals and flawless musicianship. Clocking in at seven minutes, the song manages to stay interesting for its entire duration. The whole band gets a chance to shine as Nathan Young lays down one of his best drum fills over the track’s memorable bassline. “Christa Päffgen”’s sound is similar to the one of Blueprints
’ closer, “Naïve Orleans” – the expansion of it is what truly shows the band’s maturation.
From the emotional yet catchy “Paperthin Hymn” to the aggressive title track, Never Take Friendship Personal
refuses to sacrifice passion for energy. Blueprints For the Black Market
was the first step to success, and their sophomore album is no slump as it improves over most of the flaws that prevented their debut from being the best it could. Although it does lag in some areas, particularly the middle, the band’s progression is one that earns my admiration. By exploring new sounds, Anberlin for the most part create a darker atmosphere than the one found on Blueprints
. The youthful energy is replaced with a more yearning, contemplative one, giving the album a more mature feel. Even though Never Take Friendship Personal
was filled to the top with greatness, there was still enough room to improve on what little flaws it had.
And improve they did.