Monday, May 17, 2010
A Gem In White Crosses
Against Me! has never been hard to embrace. As a consummate sucker for fiery, driving, honest material, their early work was a fitting anthem to my formative teenage years. Unlike a number of other bare-bones acts whose sound and message grew stale following that phase, each Against Me! record captivated me enough to follow them through the next. If it wasn't their evolving sound, which up until 2007's New Wave remained largely consistent, it was something else: a new label, a lineup change, and most certainly, their unparalleled live show.
I have to admit, I was concerned following the release of their aforementioned major label debut. Behind all the hype and public praise, what I heard was the sound of a band at odds with the newfound demands of mainstream exposure. Writing for the masses was not in their blood, and they (or the powers that be) weren't yet ready to part with their angsty, anti-establishment identity. Not by a long shot.
Enter White Crosses, the band's fifth full length studio release and second for the Warner imprint, Sire. Though my initial impressions of the lead single, "I Was A Teenage Anarchist", weren't approving, neither arrangement-wise nor lyrically, I have since been floored by the album in its entirety. In White Crosses, we have a bloody gem on our hands.
Let me be clear. This is not an album for the elitist street scene who failed to accept the band beyond their unadulterated, rebel rousing anthems of Axl Rose and Cowboy. This is not the mere product of four fire starters in their teens and early twenties with a blue collar ethic and a few power chords to their credit.
This is a thematically forward and unapologetic ode to growth, wrapped in familiar Against Me! cadences and Tom Gabel's most wholesome songwriting to date. This is a lean, 10-song effort that, opposite of New Wave, spares filler. With White Crosses, the band has largely ditched the man to touch on personal politics - love, loss, courage, etc; a natural result, one might argue, of their time in the commercial limelight, ascent to 30, and for some, fatherhood. With alternative mastermind Butch Vig on the boards for a second go around, they're favoring big choruses and big harmonies to minimalist production. Look no further than the emotionally moving "Because of the Shame" and album-closer "Bamboo Bones" as stellar examples. On melody and storytelling alone, I'd push the former as one of their best works to date.
Sure, White Crosses isn't groundbreaking. I wasn't expecting it to be. But it sure is a necessary, and even more so, worthy, next step for a band striving to push themselves and their careers forward. I'm telling you now, you'd be silly not to pick this up.