Review Summary: I don't want to go now, but I've got to.
Never have I been so satisfied with an album that fell so short of my expectations.
There's no point in faking objectivity. I love Anberlin. I call Cities
my favorite album of all time without hesitation. "Alexithymia" was the topic of my college entrance essay. I was more than a little upset to hear that they were breaking up this year, but I was excited to see what they'd cooked up for their fans as a goodbye. I had long forgiven them the missteps of New Surrender
and Dark is the Way
after the explosive Vital
. And when I read that the last line on the album would be "We will live forever," I could hardly contain my anticipation. Surely, Cities II
awaited, with an ecstatic closer in tow.
But of course it didn't, and Lowborn
puzzled me initially. It certainly didn't aggravate me the way Dark is the Way
did. It was pleasant, but it didn't seem to have staying power. It didn't hit me as hard as some of their masterworks, despite some clearly intense moments. It was musically textured and diverse, perhaps more than any album in the band's discography, with electronic elements garnishing the familiar alternative rock core. But Stephen Christian didn't seem to be aiming for the old high notes, and choruses weren't always quite as big.
is a grower. I find the massive choruses I always expected in the brooding "Birds of Prey" and the swelling "Hearing Voices," which can hold their own against the stars in the band's discography. But even so, the Anberlin of 2014 is very different from the Anberlin of 2007 or even 2012. This is a musically mature album that doesn't resort to cranking anything up to 11 to impress -- but it still grabs me.
And yes, I miss those moments. I will always long for the raucous energy of "Audrey, Start the Revolution!", the explosive emotion of "The Haunting," the masterful wordsmithing of "*(fin)". But still, Lowborn
scratches a peculiar itch, showing us what might have been if just a few slight changes in musical direction had occurred years ago. What if Anberlin had embraced the occasional screams from Never Take Friendship Personal
? Maybe we'd have more songs like the abrasive, chaotic "Dissenter." What if they'd hearkened back to their poppy roots from "Autobahn" but grown up a bit? Would they have crafted more songs like the jangly, bittersweet "Losing It All" and the equally bittersweet ballad "Atonement"?
And yet, through all of the excursions away from the band's staple sound, everything seems to make sense. Nothing feels alien. It just sounds like a band that has grown perfectly comfortable in their own skin 11 years after their first LP. Maybe Christian and company knew from the start that they'd never successfully duplicate Cities
, that he'd never be able to muster up the emotional maelstrom that must have spawned it. Rumor has it that their final tour will almost completely neglect Lowborn
, and they're even devoting one date to playing Cities
in its entirety. By this point I've talked far too much about that 2007 album (and, really, Anberlin's entire discography), but it casts an impossibly long shadow.
seems to thrive in the quiet darkness, as the clock nears 1 a.m. and I keep writing, desperate to finish gathering my thoughts that have been stirring up for a month now, where Cities
was comfortable in the blinding light. For a band that hung their hats on both euphoria and near-catharsis, it may seem an insult to say this aims for the middle of the road. But it does that so well
. It's ambiguous, its lyrics are far less spectacular than previous works...but Anberlin, for a change, isn't aiming for a spectacle. This is not a bombastic final chapter. It's a fond, tender farewell, a soft-spoken "Thanks." It's not what I initially wanted, but I'm content with Lowborn