Review Summary: “I’m feeling sick/I’m feeling old/I’m feeling weak/I feel that snow”
To suggest punk-rock is solely the reserve of the young would not only be an oversimplification, it would be wrong. Bad Religion recently started to hit their stride again with their past few albums. Propagandhi are seemingly going from strength to strength. Against Me!’s new album is their best in years. But while there are aging punk bands who continue to put out great, important records it seems there are just as many working at about “60 or so percent” in their respective twilights. NOFX, of course, spring to mind. Alkaline Trio too have experienced a massive drop-off in quality. Now, The Lawrence Arms can be added to this list. ‘Metropole’, their first album in eight years, sees them miss the mark with potentially enthralling themes (namely aging and urban portrayal) and also try and fail to build on former glories.
Clearly, The Lawrence Arms are beginning to feel their age. On ‘Seventeener (17th and 37th)’
, Brendan Kelly finds “the black in (his) beard has turned to white”. What’s more, he acknowledges the “corpse” he’ll leave behind certainly won’t be “pretty”. At times this preoccupation with age is compelling. The evolution of the thought, “I blinked and twenty years went by” on the album’s title-track, to “I was born and I died and just a moment went by” at the conclusion of ‘October Blood’
, is especially moving. Unfortunately, the physical feebleness described intermittently throughout the album is also manifest in ‘Metropole’s musical impotency. The album’s biggest crime is being overpopulated by mid-tempo, dismally boring tracks. Largely, this is wheezing, hacking melancholic punk-rock at its most pitiful. The juvenile ‘Acheron River’
and the boorish ‘Drunken Tweets’
(“‘*** you’ are my very favourite words to say”) are little more than power-chords-by-numbers. They also don’t pack the punch to overcome their simplicity. Elsewhere, this is an album of half-measures. The rolling snares, slapdash acoustic strumming and absent-mindedly nostalgic guitars of ‘Hickey Avenue’
, for example, vaguely hint at a folksy influence, but they don’t commit to this diversity enough to distract from the patently uninspiring song-writing. Overwhelmingly, these tracks are mind-numbingly predictable and frustratingly pedestrian.
At times The Larry Arms do attempt to deviate from humdrum punk-rock. Street-musician samples (accordion, bagpipes, piano) recorded on mobile phones offer a metropolitan take on the whimsical circus-themed backdrop to 2003’s ‘The Greatest Story Ever Told’. However, the crowd’s applause preceding ‘Chilean District’
fails to build any sort of anticipation of what’s to come, while the distant horns announcing ‘Acheron River’
seem utterly incongruous. Sadly, their half-assed efforts in integrating cheap field recordings are pithily dismissible. Certainly, musical deviations of their own creation are much more compelling. The momentarily pretty juxtaposition of town and country in the title-track – in “the wilderness of these streets/these neon trees/shine down on me” – before Chris McCaughan’s vacant announcement of “the end of all things” stands out for its grim portrayal of decay in an urban setting. Perhaps ‘Metropole’s greatest success, though, is ‘The YMCA Down the Street From the Clinic’
in which lonesome, sliding blues provides an apt canvas for images of loneliness in old-age (“up against the bar/staring down their beers”) with vivid poignancy. Unfortunately, these moments are all too fleeting.
The gulf between ‘Metropole’s potential and reality is staggering. Eight years ago The Lawrence Arms were at the top of their game: ‘Oh, Calcutta!’ saw the trio at their darkest and most aggressive and it was all the better for it. The fiery passion that prevailed on that album is all but extinguished on the limping, decrepit and awfully generic ‘Metropole’. There is evidence of interesting ideas here, but they are generally executed poorly. The recurrent themes of growing old and feeling alone in an urban environment only occasionally offer powerful moments. Despite ‘You Are Here’
s disclaimer that “words don’t come to (them) so easily” they still possess the capability – albeit diminished – to turn out evocative one-liners, but this is displayed rarely. All too often, however, their lyrics are tied to poorly-written, ineffectual songs. The twelve tracks that constitute ‘Metropole’ are thus excruciatingly tiresome. The clowns are no longer here to entertain; they’re to be torn up, and stuffed down the drain.