In the years after the garage rock/NYC scene explosion of 2002, there have been a fairly diverse set of follow-up albums by bands that were praised by many as the new saviors of rock music. Listeners have been treated to The White Stripes’ fourth album, Elephant, and impressed by The Hives’ Tyrannosaurus Hives.
This inconsistent track record made it difficult to gauge just how good the second album from New York darlings and media dark horses Interpol would be after the release of their first record, Turn on the Bright Lights. The band went back into the studio, and the fans waited and gossiped without ever hearing a note. Eventually, Interpol emerged with a brand new record in hand.
Truth be told, in the sphere of garage rock follow-ups, Interpol and their new album, Antics, turn out to be less repetitious and bland than one would expect. Naming the album Turn on the Brighter Lights wouldn’t have been too much of a misnomer, as Antics doesn’t tinker much with the musical trademarks of the debut. The distinctively somber and near-monotone drawl of vocalist Paul Banks continues to breeze over the relaxed, yet danceable grooves of bassist and all-around-hipster-icon Carlos D. and drummer Sam Fogarino. Guitarist Daniel Kessler provides the reliable, if not predictable, tones and tempos that both define and deflate Antics.
While Antics may sound a great deal like its predecessor, it does not fall short when it comes to song craft. From the organ-laced opener “Next Exit” to the stop-start minimalism of “Public Pervert” and onto the album highlight “Slow Hands,” the bulk of Antics consists of good music. Except that the music is good in the same way reheated pizza is good when you tack on some fresh toppings. The little changes are just a distraction from the reality of the fact that the original version was better.
A band that has been a mainstream fixture for as long as Green Day cannot survive doing the same thing forever. Green Day, however, seems very intent on doing the exact opposite.
Instead of retreating back into the snotty punk rock that made them huge 10 years ago, Green Day has chosen to once again throw themselves into something completely different. Their last full length album, Warning, showed an astounding amount of songwriting maturity, working in gentle acoustic parts and some very weird offbeat instrumentation, all within the framework of arguably one of their best albums to date.
Their new record has taken this a step further. American Idiot is a rock opera in the vein of The Who’s Tommy, meant to be listened to all the way through and tell a story. Amazingly, the songs do indeed have something like a story arc; every one of them has a distinctly different mood. “St. Jimmy” and the lead single “American Idiot” are vintage Green Day, complete with only four chords, and lead singer Billie Joe Armstrong sounding like he has a clothespin on his nose. That is where the standard Green Day ends, however. “Are We The Waiting” has a bizarre chanty chorus, “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” has an almost country western feel to it, and “Give Me Novocaine” is downbeat and dreamy sounding.
Without a doubt, the highlights of the album are the songs “Jesus of Suburbia” and “Homecoming.” Clocking in at nine minutes each, these two songs are masterpieces, presented to the listener in several different installments. The songwriting is varied and almost operatic. To think a band that started out as merely “pop punk” could evolve to write songs like this is very exciting.
The culmination is “Wake Me Up When September Ends,” a haunting acoustic ballad that ranks way above their hit “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life).” Like all the songs on the record, it sounds nothing like anything that came before it.
As most bands stale, Green Day continues to remain shockingly relevant. It took them several years to put this album out, but at this level of quality, it is time well spent.
In Love And Death
To be completely honest, it’s hard to take a band like The Used seriously. Their videos and songs run regularly on MTV and corporate radio, and their merchandise lines the walls of Hot Topic stores nationwide.
Considering all this, you really can’t go into your first serious listen of the band’s new album, In Love And Death, expecting to be blown away.
In Love And Death plays on the healthy dynamic of up-tempo sing-alongs and more mellowed numbers that The Used established on their 2002 self-titled debut. No matter what the pace of the song, the ensnaring melodies seem ready made for Clear Channel test audiences.
Whether The Used are intentionally shooting for the happy medium is a matter of debate, but the record definitely establishes a formula for the band that has been carried over from their debut. Even as the music gets more aggressive, it feels like The Used is hanging tight to the poppier side of their sound while occasionally intermingling McCracken’s impressive screams. It’s not enough to push the songs out of the mainstream arena. They compromise by adding in some subtle cellos and electronic backbeats, the former of which is a defining element of the album’s best track, “Lunacy Fringe.”
The album is sure to find favor with the established fan base of The Used. Melodramatic lyrics, giant choruses over heavy guitars and gut-wrenching screams are just some examples of the musical extremes that The Used pull together. In Love And Death features some decent attempts at going heavy and some good melodic numbers, but it is by no means a great record on either end. But when you’re not expecting much in the first place, you have to commend The Used on a record well-done.