Review Summary: Blending new elements with older ones, The Used create once again an enjoyable record.
After leaving Warner/Reprise and forming their own label, Anger Music Group (originally Dental Records), and teaming with Hopeless Records, The Used started recording the material for the new album, “Vulnerable”. Produced by John Feldmann, also present on their first three releases, the new album promises the flavor of the earlier records, but using a new approach to the overall music.
The singles, “I Come Alive” and “Hands and Faces”, showcase the use of dubstep/ drum ‘n’ bass elements, combined with the characteristic The Used sound, making them sound pretty unique. While the former only uses them for a few seconds, the latter not only includes them for a larger part of the track, but also uses an effect that distorts Bert’s voice, which could put off some listeners since he’s actually able to sing well, as heard in the chorus. On the other hand “This Fire” adds a violin, keyboards and a bit of electronics in a pleasant manner and earns its title as a highlight of the album. 5th track “Shine” is also based on a rhythm made of electronics, except for the chorus, which is led by the usual instruments, creating an interesting and catchy tune.
Leaving these experimentations aside, there’s no substantial change in the musicianship: although still solid and varied, it doesn’t deliver anything too complex or truly spectacular. The songwriting doesn’t really bring new formulas to the table, aside from the computer-produced sounds and a few intros. However, this is far from being a bad thing, because they’re reminiscent of the style from previous albums. While some songs emphasize on the catchy, melodic or aggressive guitar riffs (“Moving On” almost breaks into a guitar solo around the 3 minute mark, but instead brings back the chorus), “Hurt No One” includes a drum intro and gives the drummer a more prominent role, “Put Me Out” highlights the bass, which could otherwise receive more attention, and the second half of the track “Give Me Love” manages to show more of the bass and drums during the bridge.
Bert McCracken shows his great vocal delivery once again, being able to capture the emotion of the slower tracks or the anger of the heavier ones. His screams are still present, albeit not as often as on the first albums. I like his overall performance on the previously mentioned “This Fire” and on “Now That You’re Dead”. One particular weak moment is the ending of “Kiss It Goodbye “(oh yeah, sounds very familiar, doesn’t it"), which acts as a sort of interlude where he keeps repeating “It’s getting, it’s getting kinda hectic” and finishes it with a scream. By the way, the tracks after that aren’t hectic at all, so this disrupts the flow of the album. In regards to that, the first half of the album is more aggressive and catchy, while the second keeps becoming slower until the first ballad “Getting Over You”, then it returns to the upbeat “Kiss It Goodbye”, followed by the softer “Hurt No One” and ending with another ballad, “Together Burning Bright”.
Lyric-wise, the usual themes seen in The Used’s songs are kept, but the lyrics are sometimes more optimistic, uplifting (check “Shine” and “Moving On”). It’s quite clear that Bert wanted to let go of the self-depreciation and negativity dominating their previous records and bring a ray of hope. Rest assured, you can still find their creepy side on songs like “Now That You’re Dead” and “Put Me Out”.
All in all, “Vulnerable” is a solid, diverse and very enjoyable album that brings experimentation (although slightly overproduced and not efficient every time) and reminiscences from older stuff. As its name, the album makes you vulnerable to nostalgia when hearing again what The Used are capable of, yet also vulnerable to skepticism about the new sound choices. Fans of the band should enjoy this, but people who never liked it definitely won’t change their mind. Those who only appreciated the self-titled debut will still feel let down – “Vulnerable” shows no hint of returning to that raw style, but rather a good blending of “In Love and Death”, “Lies for the Liars” and “Artwork” with some twists.