Sound: In the first moments of the new song Bamboo Bones, Against Me! vocalist Tom Gabel announces, Don't let them break youDon't let them tell you who you are. It's a fitting statement for an album that definitely doesn't necessarily seem like the obvious next creative step for an often punk-fueled band. White Crosses, the fifth studio album from Against Me!, does deliver a few anthemic punk tunes, but there's also a mish-mesh of genres that are scattered throughout the 10 tracks. Whether it's intentional or not, Against Me! is proving that they don't have to be angry or aggressive or even pen big, sing-along choruses. If we want to even throw the dangerous description that this is a band that's maturing, this would be the album that fits the bill.
The title track, which is the most satisfying and vibrant on the new album, kicks off with the sound of a guitar that emulates a bagpipe. There's a very Celtic-punk feel to the entire arrangement, and the infectious song also features Against Me!'s trademark catchy choruses. Things take an interesting turn pretty much immediately after White Crosses. You may be prepared to hear a rowdy hellraiser with I Was A Teenage Anarchist, but it turns out to be quite the opposite. This is a song that reflects upon the deeds of youth with an almost serene quality. The focus is primarily on the storytelling aspect, while the fairly subdued music takes a backseat.
We're Breaking Up goes even deeper into new territory with a mellowness rarely heard in the Against Me! catalog. A thick piano line, although not present in the entire song, is still a driving force every time it does pop up in the arrangement. The most surprising and daring undoubtedly is Ache With Me, however, which feels like an homage to the world of 1950's ballads. Steady strumming is broken up only by a fascinating lead guitar effect (think Sleep Walk by Santo & Johnny), and it's just a startling and somewhat refreshing musical move by the Florida band. There are enough head-scratching moments like that on the album that it may cause some punk purists to get slightly uncomfortable.
If you're worried that Against Me! has washed away all evidence of its past sound, you can rest assured that there are still more than a few big choruses a la New Wave. The track Because of the Shame and Spanish Moss are prime examples, with Rapid Decompression being the most energetic and in-your-face track on White Crosses. For fans of The Cure's earliest songwriting, High Pressure Low is essentially an honorable nod to Robert Smith. // 8
Lyrics: As was mentioned earlier, White Crosses revolves around the art of storytelling. This is a band that isn't just content to regurgitate the same imagery or literary devices, and that's one of the most appealing aspects to the album. From the title track's vivid scenery (Street kids collect spare change in a conch shell on the side walk; Their teeth are yellow, their hair is tangled; Their minds are vapid and they laugh wild in their depravity) to the memoir-tinged I Was A Teenage Anarchist (I was a teenage anarchist, looking for a revolution; I had the style, I had the ambition; I read all the authors, I knew the right slogans), there is nothing general or stale about the songwriting. // 10
Overall Impression: Butch Vig (Smashing Pumpkins, Nirvana) is once again in the producer's seat this time around, and White Crosses' audio is predictably flawless. If you can take issue with the fact that a band has moved away from the usual Warped Tour songwriting philosophy, then White Crosses is an album that may ruffle some feathers. It certainly does stray from the band's comfort zone, but Tom Gabel and the crew do a respectable job at the undertaking. And while hearing their version of a 50's ballad or even a contemporary love song is a fascinating journey, it's usually the anthemic sing-alongs that are still the most pleasing in the bunch. // 8