Sound — 8
Among the scores of pop-punk bands out there, a few groups have thankfully omitted the pop part out. With it's 4th studio release called New Wave, Against Me! has once again reaffirmed exactly why it's traditional punk style -- free from frills or based around basic chords -- still manages to lure an audience. The new release marks a few milestones for the band, namely it's first record on Sire and the addition of Butch Vig (Smashing Pumpkins, Nirvana) as producer. While the music underneath never gets overly inventive, frontman Tom Gabel's consistently angry, growling vocals are so effective that you almost feel like joining some sort of revolution from the first track. Between the cleverly written lyrics and the unique vocals heard on New Wave, you're in store for a record that definitely appeals more to the emotions. But essentially that's what punk is supposed to: push buttons and incite some sort of reaction. The songs do tend to stick to a familiar punk format, but the band is not at the mercy of punk rock and even added a quasi-ballad (Borne On The FM Waves Of The Heart). That particular track features the sweet and delicate vocals of Tegan Rain Quin from the group Tegan And Sara. While Tegan has plenty of credibility in the rock world (The White Stripes covered one of her songs), she still creates a whole different feel that could have been possibly a dangerous move for a punk band. In the end, however, it does work and provides much-needed contrast to the rest of the record. The vast majority of tracks are the polar opposites of ballads and sound like what you might hope for in a traditional punk band. There's plenty of punchy guitar backed by a solid rhythm section, and more importantly, Gabel sounds downright annoyed in pretty much every song. Tracks like Piss And Vinegar, Americans Abroad and White People For Peace all have a familiar punk feel musically, but Against Me! still plays with an abundance of energy that isn't matched by most punk bands out today.
Lyrics — 9
In the lyrics department, the band hits the mark on every track. The songs deliver much more than just angry, dissatisfied themes, and it's obvious that the lyrics are given high priority in the band. The song Americans Abroad seemingly tells the story of a vacation overseas, but it's obvious that the message is more about America's over-eager expansion. Gabel sings, Golden arches risin' above the next overpass; These horizons are endless; Americans abroad! Americans abroad! Profit driven expansion into foreign markets. And as a punk purist might expect, there's no shortage of cynicism on the majority of New Wave. As was mentioned earlier, Borne On The FM Waves Of The Heart offers something very different, and even with Gabel's gruff vocal delivery, it still manages to feel genuine. He sings, No, it's not what we meant to say; We don't really love each other; What happens when the summer's over? How long before distance becomes a chore? While the talk about the summer being over might feel a little cliche, you still have to give a punk band credit for daring to go where emo bands tread.
Overall Impression — 8
New Wave offers mostly what you'd expect from Against Me!, but there are about 3 tracks that veer in different directions. Besides the obvious ballad, the track Animal sounds more like straightforward rock, complete with a groove-oriented, sexy riff. It's definitely not about politics and instead explores a human being's most basic needs. The closing track The Ocean has musical twists and turns that are more experimental, and you could consider it the opus of the record. The solo guitar work is fairly subtle throughout the album, but it's the rhythm section that really conveys the punk vibe. The band sticks to the short-and-sweet method of punk songs, although there are a few like The Ocean that approach the 5-minute mark. Against Me! albums are always an interesting listen, and a large part of that is due to the energy conveyed by Tom Gabel. If the records are any indication of Against Me!'s stage shows, audiences are going to be in for a good time.