I used to be so sure “I Could Be Anywhere in the World” was the one. I mean, who wasn’t, right? As far as stadium-ready, skyscraper-chorus bangers go it’s downright flawless, and George Petit’s trapped-animal screeches never ceded more gracefully to Dallas Green’s highschool-fantasy of a voice. I also nearly gave the spot to “Boiled Frogs”, putting aside for the moment that Crisis is borderline perfect and any song could have made it. But “Rough Hands” has its praises sung less frequently than those songs despite arguably deserving more.
First off, it’s as perfect a closer as you could ask for on Alexisonfire’s most balanced album. Unlike “Happiness by the Kilowatt”, which is basically Petit featuring on the first City and Colour song, “Rough Hands” sees the whole band getting in on the fun. Within the first few seconds, a gentle piano tinkle gives way to a brooding guitar which chugs underneath the whole song, though the keys return to accompany Green as he establishes the scene. Petit’s entrance in the second verse is a downright heartstopper – partially thanks to the lyrics which I’ll address in a minute – but once again Alexisonfire go all out on a hook with all three vocalists jostling for attention. It’s like a well-scripted and extremely yellable play: Green, our honey-throated voice of reason, desperately explains how his heart’s been sealed with rust while the gravel-and-whiskey-stained tones of Wade provide a balanced, harshly objective assessment of the situation – “two people too damaged too much to leave”. Which brings me to my main point: how this song elegantly paints a portrait of a crumbling relationship in a genre not renowned for very fair assessments.
Crisis itself is pretty unsparing in its willingness to call places and/or people the fuck out, with its ostensible concept about the Great Lakes Blizzard of 1977 which left hands swollen and cars as coffins just a window into a more personal portrait of shitty towns and shitty friends – for example an unbelievably brutal takedown of the band’s former drummer like “I guess the only thing cheap to you is your friends”. That’s why “Rough Hands” is surprising with its nuanced character writing. Green eases us in by summarising the holding pattern of leaving, relapsing and re-arguing that the couple are in – “so don’t look so surprised / I’m home, but just for tonight”. Even more shocking is that Petit is the one bringing lumps to throats, fast-forwarding through what feels like years of arguments, reconciliations and fuckups in painfully economic seconds: “one day my hands were too soft / one day she said ‘I’m tired’ / one day her clothes were on my floor / one day, empty bottles.” This from a band never famous for extensive lyrical subtlety, and lines like “if only we could heal ourselves / we wouldn’t need to be hooked up to these machines” that are straight from your weird uncle’s Facebook rant. Like masters this silly, lovable post-hardcore band brings together the themes of an entire album (the hands, crises literal and emotional, people who don’t value each other like they used to) in a song which hits with the power of a freight train and the precision of a surgical knife.