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2005's 'Crimson' saw a great change in Chicago alternative rockers Alkaline Trio, one that displeased a few minorities over their switch to polished, pristine mastering instead of sticking to the raw, scrappy emotions that got the band noticed in underground circles. However with the inevitable changes that wealth (in this case minimal) and popularity bring, the trio have found a sound that is unique, finally belonging in their skin. The harsh and scratchy vocals may have been washed away with age, along with the beer and cigarettes, replaced by a classy will to produce pitch perfect, slick rock music that maintains the whimsical and ironic lyrical context. With me, the entire album was on repeat throughout my last school years, with each track having its own moment of glory as they all, one by one, grew on me even more. Whenever anyone would ask "What you listening to?" I would simply pop out my earplugs and hand them over, letting the music speak for itself rather than giving an obscure reference - every reaction positive. Of course, my opinion of the album, as well as the band, is slightly biased, as with so many other artists, seeming to be so amazing when heard through the ears of a hormonal, stressed out teenager. Nostalgia aside, it is my belief that it is still an album that offers so much more than your average radio friendly 'musicians'.
The hellish tinkling of a grand piano fades into track no.1 'Time To Waste', followed by a surprisingly heavy guitar riff, full of up and down strokes, utilizing each string. "There's someone down below blowing you a kiss" singer and guitarist Matt Skiba announces whilst drummer Derek Grant unleashes a complex system of percussive snappiness and bassist Dan Andriano takes the verses by storm with a menacing rubbled bass line. After the heavy chords ring out and the verse is over, a mightily upbeat sounding chorus sparks into life - "You had time to waste.. and I'm not sorry. Such a basket-case, hide the cutlery" is gloriously typical of the bands dark yet eccentric writing. Each verse is outwitted by the next and the chorus gets more enticing especially after a rare breakdown. I don't mention or often acknowledge the drums in many tracks, but this one had me seriously taking note. An instant hit and sing along, it is rightfully the lead single for the album with an equally sharp music video - worth the listen & watch. 'The Poison' could be considered a grower since its main riff is plain and unpleasant. At first you'd be thankful that it only lingers for 2 minutes but eventually, the light charm of it comes through - but still it remains one of the weakest Andriano tracks. Surprisingly though, it is Skiba who pulls of a second single in 'Burn'. An echoing, tap delayed guitar starts a futuristic and funky song, then it changes into the accustomed sound with the play on words "You live and you burn" closes out the chorus. It is bold new territory for the band as they hardly use many effects in the past, but a second chorus of "Like hell we are anxiously waiting. Like hell burning silently strong. Somehow we fell down by the wayside and somehow this hell is home" makes for some much need head nodding approval.
Once again it is Skiba dishing out another single with 'Mercy Me', hands down the happiest sounding song on the album, despite some questionable intentions in the lyrics, and with a simple 4 chord riff that has shamefully been unused for so long. "It's been a long day, living with this, it's been a long time since I've felt so sick" is in the same vein of addictive melody as 'Time To Waste', perhaps more so over the top of the guitars palm muting and chirps. "Oh mercy me, God-bless catastrophe. There's no way in hell we'll ever live to see through this" again is an insatiably catchy chorus made even more pleasant thanks to Andriano adding a word with "So drive yourself insane tonight its not too far away and I just filled up your tank earlier today". Deafening feedback begins 'Dethbed's sound which is another surprise as it uses 2 guitars in its main riff. It's not exactly technical, but still makes a decent change from the constant chords. "Calling all cars all coroners, we've got a dead one here" shows that Skiba clearly has a lot of dark ideas roaming around in his brain. "They found me face down in the street, on the night you left to find another place to sleep, in rain and regret. They said they tried everything but it was no use" is pure storytelling from Skiba. Its about time Andriano makes a case for himself and doesn't disappoint with 'Settle For Satin'. While it abandons the theme of an upbeat tune, it sticks with a moody, depressing sound. Confronting his demons, Andriano shares "it's not so much a storm, but just a cloud that lives inside of me. He doesn't stir so easily these days, but when he wakes he goes the distance.". It sticks with duel guitars, this time having a solo like sound, it has to be the most angry and pessimistic song on the record - "but there is comfort in a world, where darkness is the only thing we see and cold is all we have to breathe. Where affectations keep us company, where the lies we tell to the eyes that roll in doubt are somehow out of our control."
Those familiar with the band (fanatically) will recognise track 7 'Sadie' from the split EP with One Man Army (later restored on b-side collection 'Remains'). It seems that this was a song that got put on hold until they could afford an orchestra. A strong ballad, 'Sadie' is about the deeds of the Manson family, with a reading from her testimony included in the later part of the song "He represented a God to me that was so beautiful that I'd do anything for him. I'd do anything for God, even murder if I believed it was right. How could it nor be right if it is done with love? I have no remorse for doing what was right to me. I have no guilt in me.". Where they were going with this is questionable and a bit controversial, but no matter the actions, with its musical score including a scorching guitar solo, it is a powerful message. 'Fall Victim' was an instantaneous hit in my books - an upbeat tempo and superb vocals, it still finds it way into my playlist. "I watched them fall in line as I fell victim to double suicide on your television" could not be sang with any more divinity - a tough job with that imagery. I could pick out any of its weird lyrics and be blown away by its delivery rather than meaning. Along with 'Time To Waste' & 'Mercy Me', it is one worth a listen for anyone remotely interested. Finally, Dan writes that bright and shiny number 'I Was A Prayer' - which practically mirrors the past album 'Good Mourning's 'Emma'. Sticking with the second guitar for a riff its a chugging sing along with fascinatingly obscure lyrics - "To a hopeless cause, I sold my soul, a romantic plastic piece of sh*t you can mould.. Until I break into chokable pieces". At only two and half minutes it can't last long enough, acting as a brief breath of fresh air after some slow paced, downbeat songs.
'Prevent This Tragedy' is based on the events in 1993 with the child murdering West Memphis Three. That little fact sort of taints the song, especially as the chorus focuses on a cheerful mood. Consequently, the lyrics are just as grim as ever with "The flames of hell they give me hope I drown" and "where nothing's heard for miles but the sound of children wishing they were safely underground". It's intro uses an overdramatic orchestral theme but because of the topic, no amount of class can remove the fact that it's not very appropriate. In-keeping with the themes, 'Back To Hell' offers up more demonic subjects. "Like the pills in your hand, I'll never let you down and like the bugs in your bed under my skin now they're, devouring all that's left of me" easily the fastest song of them all thanks to the main riff that goes all over the place. 'Your Neck' is another vampiric gooden for me "Well first things first, we've got to find a way, to make the beauty of the nighttime last all day". The three can do no wrong in coming up with memorable hooks. A delightful piano score accompanies the magical line "I'll do my very best to keep my feelings off my chest and out of your neck". At this point it's a bit bewildering as to why it's only now that Alkaline Trio have included piano to their short list of instruments. "We're the things that go bump in the night that you can't see. Yeah we're the mishaps that always happen in threes" couldn't be more appropriate. As the album comes to a close with unlucky for some, no.13, listeners old and new are in for a shock with 'Smoke'. The trio have never written anything like it - discarding the standard chords and octaves used to keep songs stable and using their new found joy of string sections. The bass and guitar are equally technical - meaning it is likely that the majority of the song was written by Andriano alone. "And I wish that I don't, wish I still smoked.. And I wish, that I wrote you one original note" is a nice personal touch from Dan and with the added guitar making the song even more epic in the background - its a sad but genuinely moving way to end an album.
Should you purchase the 'Deluxe Edition' of the album, you'll receive a second CD that includes insightful demos, live performances and one-off acoustic versions of all the songs (14 in total) including 'Deep Red', a 10 minute documentary depicting recording sessions - all in a sleek coloured sleeve. Also included is a stylishly stunning lyric booklet with a cool photo-shoot of the band, dressed in suitable gentleman attire. Certainly worth the extra few pennies, whether you're a member of the fabled 'Blood Pact' fan-base or just looking for quality musicianship.