Monday, April 28, 2008

Against Me! -- New Wave (2007)

Against Me! -- New Wave (Sire):

I saw these guys on Conan O’Brien and hearing classic anthem punk by a contemporary band turned my head. But not enough to pick up this album until April 2008. Which was my mistake.

From what I gather, Against Me! made its name playing aggressive sloganeering punk songs on acoustic guitars. On this, the band’s major label debut, Butch Vig sat in the producer’s chair and all of the songs are filled with electric guitars. This may have ticked off the purists, but music this powerful is certainly not hampered by additional amps.

The songs on this album range from good to great. Indeed, the first four songs are urgent bursts of controlled fury, with literate lyrics that inspire, declaim and empathize in equal doses. The title cut is a call to arms for something different in this cookie cutter, corporate world. "Up the Cuts", meanwhile, calls bullshit on the notion that file sharing is the sole reason music isn’t selling. The lack of originality might be at fault too.

This is followed by the moving "Thrash Unreal", about a recovering heroin addict’s struggles. There are shout along backing vocals in the chorus are reminiscent of Naked Raygun while Tom Gabel’s sore throated vocals have an emotional power that’s akin to Franklin N.W. Stubbs of Leatherface. The final of this quartet of amazing songs is "White People For Peace", an unfortunately titled song. Fueled by a large melodic riff, Gabel looks at how dissent is effectively ignored by the current government. From Gabel’s perspective, it may seem that singing "protest songs to try and stop the soldier’s gun" may seem ineffectual, but it must be done, or else we’re just giving up.

While the rage fueled anthem is Against Me’s specialty, there’s a bit of variety here. "Americans Abroad" is a bit of a rockabilly shuffle, encroaching on The Living End’s territory, "Borne On the FM Waves Of the Heart" is a relatively sweet mid-tempo song, with Tegan Quin (of Tegan and Sara) taking some of the edge off the proceedings. The band explores funkier territory on "Stop!", which hints at the influence of the Gang Of Four, though this isn’t quite so angular. This is a direction the band should pursue further, as it works very well on this track.

What impressed me most about Against Me! is that Gabel has a skill that very few artists can pull off -- taking wordy lyrics and making them work without overloading the song. Bad Religion and Ted Leo are good at this and Joe Strummer and Midnight Oil mastered this difficult skill. This allows for music of maximum intelligence without sacrificing catchiness.

No comments: