(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Recording review - Alkaline Trio, My Shame Is True (2013)

Decent music dragged down by banal lyrics

Midwest punkers Alkaline Trio have had a restless career since their start in 1996, bouncing between record labels and taking a few years to settle on their line up. My Shame Is True marks a return to new material after 2011’s Damnesia, which was a more acoustic romp through their back catalog as a gift to their fans. Looking for a change, the band teamed up with Bill Stevenson (Descendents), recording at his Blasting Room Studios in Ft. Collins, Colorado. Stevenson’s punk credentials have attracted a roster of clients like Rise Against and NOFX, which sets some high expectations for Alkaline Trio’s latest. Musically, the mix of indie rock, punk and pop-punk stands up well, but the pacing and the lyrics undercut the project.

My Shame Is True starts out with misdirection. The catchy and humorous “She Lied to the FBI” is a blatant appropriation of the Ramones’ “The KKK Took My Baby Away”. Despite the lack of originality, the clever story line and syllable-perfect phrasing manage to charm. The smart-ass attitude, chunky guitars and tight chorus harmonies make a strong beginning, but the facade cracks when it becomes clear that they don’t have much more than the initial premise as they run through the set up a second time. Joey Ramone could sell this with spastic indifference while his band dared anyone to call them on it. Alkaline Trio may have been inspired by the Ramones, but their amateur-hour send-up proves short-lived. The album quickly moves away from fun-loving pop-punk to beat its chest with confessional rockers. The snark isn’t completely abandoned, but it’s hard to find.

The second song, lead-off single “I Wanna Be a Warhol”, ramps down the wit significantly. From the perspective of a medicated, spoiled child, they alternate between surrealistic observations and begging for attention. The title says it all — maybe even more than they intended. They want the recognition of being controversial art and revel in how special they’d be, but they seem to miss the point that much of Warhol’s work was about elevating the mundane. As the rest of the album unfolds, Alkaline Trio is dragged down by their unremarkable themes of dissatisfaction, challenging relationships and the power of love.

Given that bandleader Matt Skiba describes My Shame Is True as “an apology note set to music” in the wake of a romantic breakup, it would have been better to push these first two songs to later in the playlist. Leading off with the driving power pop of “I’m Only Here to Disappoint” would have at least nipped any bait-and-switch accusations and framed the catharsis better. In this context, the group hits their stride with “The Temptation of St. Anthony”. The uptempo punk-pop beginning tries to channel Green Day, especially with lines like, “My tender carrion/ The damage has been done/ From the depths of your heart/ To the tip of my tongue.” Alkaline Trio draws on this energy to jumpstart the punk intensity of “I, Pessimist”, which features whipsaw vocals between bass player Dan Andriano and guest singer Tim McIlrath (Rise Against).

Unfortunately, these two tracks provide the best pairing of lyrics and music while the rest of the songs struggle to make their mark. From the platitudes of “Only Love” to the avuncular advice of “Young Lovers”. Alkaline Trio hardly has anything to say. Sure, “In the end, there is only love,” but the head-banging rock and dynamic shifts deserve better revelations. Suffering is supposed to inspire great art and confession may be good for the soul, but too much of My Shame Is True turns out to be banal.

(This review first appeared on Spectrum Culture)

No comments:

Post a Comment