Thursday, April 8, 2010

Agony & Irony Review

Since the release of their 1998 album "Goddamnit", Alkaline Trio has been a consistent source of catchy punk music. With lead guitarist Matt Skiba and bass player Dan Andriano providing some of the darkest and most heartfelt lyrics in the genre, they hooked many people (including me) into their addicting, aggressive records. It comes as no surprise that a vast majority of their growing fan base were disgruntled by their signing onto the major record label, Epic. There were immediate cries of selling-out, which is no shock. When a band as dark and gloomy as Alkaline Trio signs onto a well-known and respected record label, the outcome can somehow appear bleak.

And thus came "Agony & Irony", the sixth studio creation from the Trio as well as the most radio friendly display of dark pop-punk to come from the group. In terms of their past efforts, this could easily be seen as on par with "Crimson", which was viewed as one of their more somber records. With A&I the group returns with the same morbid outlook, but with a more polished and poppy execution. The change is immediately present when you start the opening track, "Calling All Skeletons". A clap-along beat and some simple guitar begin the hooking ride that can be expected for the remainder of the album. It's a great opener and helps you get the feel of what's to come whether you like that or not.

The following three tracks, "Help Me", "In Vein" and "Over And Out" are very solid and memorable songs, the first being one of the catchiest songs the Trio has produced. "Over And Out" tells a heartfelt story which utilizes Skiba's superb writing skills, which are unfortunately mostly absent for a good portion of the record. From there is where we see the record begin to sink. The following tracks are undoubtedly catchy in their own respects, but as you'll see on "I Found Away", the writing is absolutely boring.

"I found a way/Over the fear and through the flames/I'm diving in don't follow me"

I mean, sure it makes you want to sing along, but the words just seem so hollow when you really think about them -- And it's a continuing trend throughout most of the record. Another of Matt's songs, "Live Young, Die Fast" shows some of his worst writing to date. With lines like "So live young, die fast/No one will last/Sit back and relax/Enjoy the crash" it takes a lot for me to not question where his witty and intelligent metaphors went. He once held the crown for one of the best writers in the punk genre, but this record is a major step down for him. Yet I somehow still want to sing along. Each hook and chorus contains the distorted guitar shredding and smooth bass lines that keep me coming back for more. With a song like "Love Love, Kiss Kiss", one of the blandest displays of heartbreak that has spawned from the Trio, they still find a way to keep it stuck in your head despite how much you may despise it. It without a doubt proves that Alkaline Trio can make whatever they have to work with incredibly catchy.

Dan Andriano has always held most of the singing talent for the Trio, and it's no different here. Despite Matt being a wonderful emotional singer when the music calls for it, he's not nearly as crisp as Dan is here. "Ruin It", one of the redeeming tracks on A&I, displays some of those aforementioned singing chops. He has wonderful control over each note and tone change that it almost overshadows some of the weaker writing bits. He's not shy with that bass either, each song filled with those thick, flowing bass lines that he's been delivering since '98. Perhaps if Andriano had more than four songs on the record things may have been a different story in terms of the reception it received.

The music on the record is nothing short of what is expected from the group. They've been providing repetitive guitar chords over sludgy bass lines since their debut and it's no different here. Though there is the notable addition of synthesizers on "Lost And Rendered" and a few other tracks. This is a lovely touch but doesn't really add much to what the music is doing since you really have to strain to hear it under the guitar.

Despite being one of the catchier albums that the band has produced, "Agony & Irony" is extremely flawed with its poor writing and forgettable music. Though I suppose it is what was expected by the naysayers who jumped ship the moment they signed with Epic. Yes, even with its dark and gloomy themes, A&I remains a radio friendly punk record spawning from the band who did just the opposite not too long ago. It's not an awful record in any sense, but it certainly doesn't contain anything spectacular in terms of lyrical content. Though, it is definitely worth a few listens for the few gems to be found in it.

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