Review Summary: What will continue to be is what we allow...
In 2021, it's valid to question what Rise Against is...well, rising against
. The band is twenty years into a fruitful and relatively consistent discography, and they made their strongest impressions more than a decade ago. Since then, it's been a balance between fan service and recycling material - a downward slope that began with Endgame
and continued right on through The Black Market
. With Nowhere Generation
, they've finally dug in their heels to stop the skid.
It's not like they had to do anything outlandish to reverse their fortune. Nowhere Generation
is still a rebellious punk album that follows the same general set of musical rules as all of its predecessors. The difference here is that there's an ounce of self-awareness: rather than churning out the same anti-establishment sentiments in hopes that a new generation - one fighting its own, very new battles - will somehow take heed of concepts that were better served protesting the Bush administration, they turned their focus to the group that makes up the majority of their fan base. Tim McIlrath and co. met with Gen Y and Z fans in an attempt to gain a closer understanding of their struggles, and from crippling student debt and poverty wages to the automation of jobs and rampant political corruption, Rise Against was able to acquiesce generally what's bothering young folks these days and put it into an album.
Call it secondhand inspiration, but at least the music feels relevant again. On the title track, McIlrath sings of unfulfilled promises and disillusionment, calling us (including myself in that Gen Y/Z sample) "the kids that no one wants" and "a credible threat to the rules", who "speak a language you don't know" and are "a cause to be alarmed". It's a powerful sentiment that is only magnified by issues that always existed (especially in America) but were magnified by the pandemic - like the decay of small business and a rise in labor shortage. McIlrath doesn't have to pen Shakespearean poetry to convey these topics, because they're so blunt and obvious to those experiencing such patience-testing trials of adulthood that it doesn't need to - nor should it be - wrapped up in a metaphorical bow.
Whether it's 'Broken Dreams, Inc.' describing the shifting job landscape, 'Sudden Urge' clamoring for reform, or 'Talking to Ourselves' expressing the anger that many of us feel when our voices go willfully ignored by the powerful, it's safe to say that Rise Against have struck a lot of the right nerves on Nowhere Generation
to be considered a successful protest. Musically, however, there are still come kinks to be worked out. The album doesn't bring any new sounds to the table, and rarely ventures to do more than what's anticipated from the band. Perhaps it's unfair to expect revolution from a band precisely two decades deep into its lifespan, but we've seen many artists mature as they cross the middle-aged threshold and redefine their entire career trajectory. It's anyone's guess if Rise Against is capable of such a transformation, but their willingness to update their conceptual agenda offers us a sliver of hope. That is Nowhere Generation
's primary failing: it adjusts its lyrics for 2021, but its sound is still stuck in 2008. Maybe they'll catch up musically next time, but here it causes the album to sound dated even when it's not.
On the bright side, Rise Against brought with them (from their perpetual mid-2000s residence) another big dose of energy and hooks. Opener 'The Numbers' is one of the most memorable tracks they've written in years, and simple-yet-compelling verses like "what will continue to be, is what we allow" will anchor it as a new classic in Rise Against's canon. There is only one ballad on the record, 'Forfeit', and the rest of Nowhere Generation
moves swiftly through uptempo punk and alt-rock cuts, most of which espouse reasonably catchy melodies worth returning to. Diminishing returns are a very real thing, especially when an act has been at it for as long as Rise Against has, but it's still leagues better than the group's previous two outings. It's a release worth lauding for that fact alone, even if the band has clearly done better in the golden light of its 2000s prime.
Ultimately, what we have here is just another Rise Against album - but the good kind! It's not going to make anyone forget The Sufferer and the Witness
, Siren Song of the Counter Culture
, or Revolutions per Minute
, but to say that it stands its ground against Appeal to Reason
is not off base. The primary flaw with Nowhere Generation
isn't that it fails to live up to the expectations of its fan base, it's that as their following ages, fewer and fewer will remain a part of the band's perpetual rebellion. Redefining their lyrical scope to appeal to new listeners was a very savvy and in-tune move, but the slow march towards irrelevance will continue unless they find a way to evolve - or at least invigorate - their sound. As such, Nowhere Generation
is merely a good album that offers us a worthwhile batch of late-career songs. How
late into their career might depend on whether or not they're able to truly embrace the spirit of punk rebellion and reform their own outdated aesthetic.