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This summers major label debut from Floridas Against Me! is one of the best mainstream rock albums Ive heard in many years, and despite finally severing all ties to frontman Tom Gabels acoustic origins it retains enough raw force and punk aggression to satisfy old fans, while using catchy hooks to reel in those old favourites of mine, the general public.
If were supposed to take the lyrics of the title track seriously, Gabel intends this album to represent the crest of a new wave in the music industry, hopefully producing something new and original despite the inevitable copy-cat acts that will follow in its wake. While this album doesnt exactly possess the influential power of producer Butch Vigs more recognised hits such as Nirvanas Nevermind and the Smashing Pumpkins Siamese Dream, its slick consistency (edited down to only ten songs and thirty-three minutes) was at least enough to inspire Australias Ben Lee to record an acoustic cover version of the whole thing just for fun, and stick it up on his website at http://www.ben-lee.com/blog.htm (Bear in mind that he is Australian, and his over-zealous enthusiasm should not be considered representative of the albums effect on normal people).
This isnt a great album, but its a very good one. Theres a nice mix of styles from the shamelessly chart-oriented Thrash Unreal to the angry tracks later in the album, and even some near-psychedelia in the finale seemingly inspired by the Doors. Other influences from classic punk rock to modern rock abound, thankfully bypassing indie, and there are even some apparent, perhaps unintentional nods to bizarre sources such as 80s gay dance-pop act Frankie Goes to Hollywood. Gabels vocals keep the whole thing grounded in traditional gruff rock and roll, while his guitars and those of James Bowman vary from background filler in the verses to some enjoyable solo spots indebted to classic punk in my favourite tracks. Thanks to the polished production, Andrew Sewards bass can be heard plodding along, though never really doing anything of interest, while the few opportunities drummer Warren Oakes is granted outside of keeping up a medium tempo never go too far into virtuoso territory to alienate casual listeners. Aside from a brief and uninspiring duet with Tegan Quin in track six, theres very little studio trickery involved in the way of sound effects or samples to intrude on the basic purity of the instruments, though Butch Vigs famous overdubs are still applied in full force to add volume to some of the harder riffs. Against Me! aim to take rock music into the future by looking back to the past.
1. New Wave
2. Up the Cuts
3. Thrash Unreal
4. White People for Peace
6. Borne on the FM Waves of the Heart
7. Piss and Vinegar
8. Americans Abroad
10. The Ocean
With a combined playing time of just over half an hour, its clear that none of these songs will plunge into elaborate, sustained outbursts of Onanistic progressive rock, and for the most part the editing is just right, the average length being just over three minutes (it doesnt take a Hawking to figure that one out). Thus we have predictable, repetitive, distinctly average opener New Wave setting up the general concepts of the album gruff but friendly masculine vocals, memorable choruses and occasional punk outbursts of guitar solo before sinking to ever more interesting depths. Up the Cuts is a big improvement and one of my favourites on the album for its increased energy, evident in Gabel having to yell over the volume of his guitar (thankfully without reverting to hardcore shouting that would really spoil things) and featuring a greater focus on instrumentation at no cost to the overall enjoyment. Other songs following this successful, albeit highly seventies-derivative style are the albums first single White People for Peace, which even has a classic-sounding and cutely flawed punk chorus in which Gabels anarchistic lyrics are a little too detailed to actually fit the melody (protest songs / inresponsetomilitaryoppression), and my favourite Piss and Vinegar which, as can probably be deduced from the title, is a full-blooded celebration of punk. The lyrics are typically anti-establishment, attempting to prove that these musicians are still true to themselves as many such bands feel compelled to sing about when promoted to a corporate label, and the whole thing is driven by the best and most prominent guitars of the album. Even the slightly annoying addition of the records only hardcore scream is negated by a pleasant woah-oah-oah section shortly afterwards, keeping the punk rock yin-yang intact, while the more mediocre later song Americans Abroad ends with an amusing f*** off, seemingly out of nowhere.
Thats not to say that the remainder of the album is less satisfying, though its tendency to focus on catchier, slower songs is only really successful when going the full way and stripping down any pretensions to still being rock. The oddly titled Thrash Unreal is the unapologetic single (actually the second to be released, but the highest charting by far), its use of a capella vocals and cheesy ba-ba-ba-da-da chorus not impressing me much (entirely lacking the beauty of a woah-oah-oah chorus. I require medical attention), but the worst offender is the shortest song Stop!, which not only seems too short to be of any value, but sounds an awful lot like Frankie Goes to Hollywoods Relax. Which I guess is okay if youre into that kind of thing, but its not exactly what youd hope for when buying a rock album with a tigers snarling face on the front promising some real aggro, is it? This animal itself seemingly comes into play with the slower, country-tinged number simply titled Animal, which ends up a little dull but makes for an interesting departure nonetheless, while we sail around full circle and return to the theme of the ocean with the final song, imaginatively titled The Ocean. This is a nice piece of The Doors-style psychedelia, utilising some interesting guitar distortion in-between the almost spoken word lyrics that blend the metaphor of an ocean inside oneself with simpler, more literal observations about dolphins swimming and stuff. Its good.
Against Me! is a contemporary rock band on the rise, and one Id certainly be interested in checking out further. Their committed approach to making modern rock that doesnt pander to current trends is refreshing, particularly as I hate pretty much all the current trends and clearly always will (I am something of a world-despising curmudgeon, as you may have observed over the course of my reviews), and it offers enough interesting metaphors and thematic trickery to please pretentious listeners like myself, namely in its repetition of the ocean theme, without indulging in the recent resurgence of prog indulgence. The wave the band is riding is still fairly small, but gaining in strength, and in a year or two I can easily visualise their next album crashing onto the shores and obliterating coastal fishing villages as the band takes control of the mainstream (stream, do you see?) Perhaps I should leave the metaphors to the songwriters.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 New Wave
2 Up The Cuts
3 Thrash Unreal
4 White People For Peace
6 Borne On The FM Waves Of The Heart
7 Piss And Vinegar
8 Americans Abroad