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'This Addiction' - the staggering seventh full length album of Alkaline Trio's existence. The fact that this band has got such a huge back catalogue of songs is plain insane when you imagine how alternative their genre and sounds are, not to mention their loyal but minuscule fan base. 2 Years after a sub par release in 2008's 'Agony & Irony', the Trio have toured, rested and got all the phoney baloney special effects and synthesizers out of their system, to write a solid album that sounds much more like the group of old. Here I review the whole album, bonus tracks and the double disc version with its live performance (the stand alone album is 4 stars in my books)
Title track 'This Addiction' belts straight into the album with strong octive chords and an upbeat attitude. "You hit me just like heroin, I feel you coursing through my vains.. I once tried to kick this addiction.. I swear I'll never kick again" are the first edgy words announced by vocalist and guitarist Matt Skiba. The verses are simple and clean, solid percussion, lengthy chords and rock and roll bass, building to the ever catchy chorus of "This addiction. Can't seem to live without you. This addiction. No going clean. This addiction. I go through withdrawal without you, sick with this addiction in me." Dan Andriano starts the 2nd track 'Dine, Dine My Darling' a play on words due to the bands liking for The Misfits and their song 'Die Die My Darling'. Its a slow, gurgling song with lazy backing vocals but it still has a pleasant 2nd guitar and lots of guitar slides and spitfire drumming. The weakest Andriano song out of the way. 'Lead Poisoning' initially seems like a lame duck due to its stop start rhythm that seems to be going nowhere until you get an echo of a faint trumpet in the background. There is no chorus despite all the building and anticipation, however there is the return of a hilariously wonderful trumpet solo to brighten up a really iffy track. Once heard, it becomes the only thing to look forward to really as Skiba's lyrics and vocals are too simple and obvious. 'Dead on the Floor' sees Matt come out swinging for the next round though, with a far superior lyrical performance. "Like two ships in the night we're colliding and sinking into the black sea of our love" is typical of his story telling antics. The guitar work is sturdy like the ticking of a clock and the bass gets up to all sorts of rambunctiousness that makes it far more fun. The mood of the song is questionable, at first being rather ok then departing into an 'Oh well, never-mind' tone.
'Warbrain' comes to mind when 'The American Scream' starts. Two guitars again, one that flows through the majority of the song, even the best parts - its bridges - head shaking brilliance. The lyrics are rather adolescent mentioning 'smoking guns' and 'cemeteries' - common subjects in older albums when the band were in their 20s. Dan Andriano's classic song writing shines brighter than the sun in 'Off the Map', a feel good sing along that Alkaline Trio have been producing since the 90's. Once again there is no chorus, but built up bridges and heartfelt plee "See I'm so far off the map the sun is shining. While its raining and I'm draped in silver lining and I can row row row my boat back to shore some day.. So are you coming with me? Anchors away!". After each rendition follows a superbly worked 'solo' thats unexpected but so necessary. (I even made the little effort of learning this song because of its entertaining properties). If ever there was a trademark or stereotypical Matt Skiba song it would be 'Draculina' singing about blood and guts covered vampire babe he's dreaming off. Best parts are the second guitars fiddling away in the back, something A3 are getting used to now. Vocal melodies consequently are stretched and unoriginal, merely repeating the name and adding 'whoa ho oh's' and 'Draculina ah urghh ah'. Also featured is the hammond organ, last seen on 'Good Mourning'.. nice subtle, touch there. More influences coming through in 'Eating Me Alive' as its synth driven riff bursts to life. This time though the bridges let the song down until the title line chorus prior to all the vampiric shenanigans and "I can't stand this dark feeling, this shark eating me up inside.. Eating me alive!". Regardless of its frankly, silly tales of demons, its a good return to plain and simple song writing and despite its title and lyrics, its probably the happiest of all the tracks. I've never liked 'Piss & Vinegar' though. The 9th track just doesn't do anything for me, sounding like a mixture of all the low points of the album, reminders from other Skiba tracks and an out of place close-line of "feels like its raining all the time". Some of the guitar work does brighten things up a bit and the drums are always as sharp as ever from Derek Grant, but its by far the lamest song on the CD.
'Dorothy' is another memento-like song from Skiba, again addressed to some woman. This time though its a bit darker with insect noises and a saddened melody. All the instruments seem tuned down and the only light of happiness is the vocals and an interlude.. that and a really mysterious sentence from an unknown. Then comes the closer 'Fine'. To date, it is 'the' most technical and well crafted songs the Trio have written. If the odd pace of the drums weren't enough of a clue, the guitar that sprinkles a bit of magic surely gives it away - that Dan (normally the bassist) has taken up the guitar and Matt moved to the drum kit. Although the sound is totally new and original, the noises are all in the right order, as the 2 oldest members of the band play the first instruments they started out with. It beggars the question whether they should have stuck to this formula a long time ago. The melody, lyrics and theme are all signs that its an Andriano special. Some classy church bells make an appearance similar to 'We've had enough'. It doesn't sound anything like what you're expecting and yet still manages to be a quality song. I take nothing away from any other of their songs, because they have so many greats, but this is beyond outstanding for them. "I'm gunna wake up from this dream with nightmares lined up on my street, but I'm fine, I'm fine. Needed a hand to keep my head up so you put hooks in both my ears and I'm fine, I'm fine."
If that ending wasn't good enough for you, prepare for some bonus tracks. As always, Alkaline Trio lose their heads as they've left out 2 great songs and slapped them on as b-sides. 'Kick Rocks' is an experienced punk riot. What starts as a harsh guitar riff becomes an anthem and the lyrics go into party mode. "So take a sip from the hourglass" Dan says, "We can make time stop" apparently. "..and watch from the window upstairs while they all kick rocks" generously harmonising with Derek Grant - who really should take part in singing more - great voice. 'Those Lungs' another Dan song, shamefully demoted to a bonus, continues the absolute top notch lyrics, devotionally telling "When I get home I'll keep you up for hours, I'm gunna need breath in those lungs. And when you're finally able to fall asleep though, the sun might disagree..I am gunna lay right there and watch you breathe, till you wake up to me" followed by some lovely guitar melodies and rampart percussion.
After that theres some live, rustic, acoustic versions of 'This Addiction', 'Dine, Dine My Darling', 'Dead On The Floor' and 'Fine'. This is something very kind of the band to include as they are all such brilliant musicians, not particularly in technical terms but emotion and soulful. The acoustics also act as examples as to how the songs were built in the first place. Some would say the acoustic performances outshine the fully mastered songs. The acoustic renditions of 'Fine' and 'This Addiction' are the real gifts though as the latter features lowered, snappy drums and the former is equally perfect to its full version. The guys really know how to keep their loving fans happy.
Being a big fan of this band, I had to go for the special edition. I bought it for under £15, which is what most mainstream artist's albums RRP usually start at, but this includes a whole, DVD of the band performing in 2008, live at The House Of Blues in Nevada, Las Vegas. There are no warm up acts or introductions but you do get camera work / quality better than their other DVD release 'Live on Halloween' (it still looks a bit 'digital' as the guitar strings look fuzzy and pixelated). The band take to the stage in far more showman like circumstances - Matt Skiba wearing a fancy shirt with suspenders, Dan Andriano in a nerdy sweater-vest bless him, Derek Grant in a standard shirt with a pentagram. Theres all sorts of shots thrown in, from stationary views behind and beside the members as well as from a 2nd story and of course numerous clips of the hysterical audience singing along, crowd surfing and raising a defiant fist at every opportunity. At times its sounds like there is playback helping out a wee bit, mainly when the band let the audience sing, that has been toned down for the video sound. Still you can't blame them with the energetic song list and their respective 30 something ages - Its still live. Ever the showmen, theres minimal mistakes and interesting reworking of songs - from additional lyrics to guitar effects and breakdowns. It has to be said that Skiba is sometimes out of his depth at times when he needs to hit a long or high note. That and his voice generally lacks the furious emotion that used to be his strongpoint. Now its all about precision and playing it safe. There is some use of a 2nd guitarist backstage (not shown) to help out on newer songs. Whoever it is royally mucks up 'I found away' being far too loud and overdoing verses and goes AWOL on 'Warbrain'. The sound quality is constant throughout, with minimal shrieking mic feedback and optimistic audience cries. They keep it professional, making only brief speeches and into's before playing the next song.
Lighting is no more than a disco to be honest, mostly making use of every single colour at once, only occasionally adding mood lighting and set triggers. Still, it doesn't ruin the splendor of seeing the band members in their sweaty, beer sipping, glory. The fact that the performance is slightly better than satisfactory is redundant, because you're getting the DVD for a minimal mark up of the price, so its a pretty sweet deal anyway, that and the setlist isn't half bad either, adding some lesser heard songs and falling back on some classics from 'Goddamnit' making it a successful act for all fans, new and old. It all comes in recyclable packaging too, as a folding out case which includes the lyric book (decorated with sevens (to note it as the 7th album) and numerous pictures from photo-shoots. You even get a small advert for Vagrant / Hassle records, displaying other bands, albums and merchandise. This Album/CD/DVD combo is the ideal package for all fans of Alkaline Trio, you got the album and all its leftovers and for dessert a live show. If you're not a fan, you've missed out and this probably isn't for you to enjoy, though it is a complete bargain and I'd urge you to check it out, whether you buy it or listen online, theres a good chance you'll be hooked on the charm of alternative pop punk rock's finest.
Calling all skeletons, Nose over tail, I lied my face off, I found away, In vein, Private eye, Mercy me, Warbrain, Blue Carolina, Time to waste, Armageddon, Love love kiss kiss, Goodbye forever, My little needle, Crawl, Help me, My friend Peter, This could be love.