Sound — 8
I hadn't heard much about Alkaline Trio as of late other than "sell out" rumors, but I lost interest in those years ago as every band is doomed to them. While playing some of their other albums on winamp I noticed an article about them and thought I would give it a read. The article was about Alkaline Trios appearance on the hills. I've never seen this show, and they mentioned that neither have they which I find somewhat entertaining. What really caught my eye was mention of a new album. Members of the band (can't remember which exactly), spoke of how they went in to the studio not to create another Alkaline Trio album, but simply a good album that they would listen to. Today when I was at the mall for cheap tocos I went to HMV, which sadly is the only place that would carry the album in my town, and picked up my copy of it. The statements they made about making a good album hold true, but if you're looking for another God Damn It you're out of luck. The guitar tones are far less harsh, which is a double edge sword. On one hand the grit of Matts old distortion is lost, shy of a couple hits here and there, but on the other hand it blends in to the mix very well. He seems to also have become a better player (though Dan may have played some of the lines), as the classic down stroked eighth notes are replaced with off beat punchy upstrokes and other more embellished strumming pattern. That said, on a couple features like Ruin It you'll hear some of the classic Alkaline Trio palm muted fun. For the bass lines, Dan keeps his usual balance between adding an element to the music without drawing to much attention to himself. In the past his lines favored open strings when he could get away with it (at least live, could play it different in the studio), often allowing him to make lines sound more complicated than they really are leaving him free to sing either lead or backup without having to simplify his playing at this times. That said, as with the guitar, you'll find many lines of simple eighth note patterns following the root of the current chord. Drums are some of the best I have heard on an Alkaline Trio record. Derek not only has some great fills, but they are thrown into the right spots. Alkaline Trio seems to always be about the lyrics more than the instruments and the drums fit a nice balance of impressive without being over powering. Often taking cues from Dan's bass lines and following the guitar break downs flawlessly. Some of the snare fills amaze me, and you can tell that he had a great deal more freedom than usual. His performance is something I cannot criticize. I've been listening to Alkaline Trio for years and must admit Derek is most likely the most talented musician in the group. All I can really say is that I would like to hear him sing more often. He has done some really nice backups in the past and would love to hear more. That brings me to the vocals. As mentioned Alkaline Trio has always been about the lyrics more than the instruments. The mix on this album is at par with that of Crimson, but with that brings me back to the fact that this is not God Damn It. The vocals are often softer, yet more defined, across the board. Like the guitar tone, this removes a bit of the grit but doesn't really take away from the quality of the performance. The emotion is still there, it is just not anger anymore. Some may not like the "new" sound of this album, but to my ears I have heard this before. Music from the Crimson album and even older albums, including the recently released Remains, have had the synth backed eerily beautiful quality to it that this album has. It's their evolution and some will like it while others wont. I can say for sure that this album may have many elements from past recordings, as a whole it is unlike any that Alkaline Trio have put out to date; something that many said about Crimson when it was first released.
Lyrics — 9
Lyrics are a bit of a tough one for Alkaline Trio these days. The band started out with two singers who were either angry or depressed, which fueled Alkaline Trio's sound and lyrics. Now, years later, after building a successful band and even marrying off, the band is admittedly past that phase. Where other bands make the mistake of holding on to the past and writing about being disenfranchised youths well into their thirties, Alkaline Trio grew up. They've even had songs in the past dealing with this topic, see We Can Never Break Up. This album's lyrics and vocal tone is far less dark than some of the past. There are still darker themes than you'll find on the radio mind you, but no one is wishing their ex would electrocute themselves; though suicide is brought up in a more subtle way.
Overall Impression — 8
I always find a bit of humor behind the idea of a band being a sell out for changing their sound. Now if this is done in order to sell more records this could be argued, but with an album and band like this it can be contradictory. Agony and Irony is different than any previous album released by Alkaline Trio, but is clearly done for artistic reasons. Yes, this does move a bit closer to pop punk than most would like, but it is still far from what would be called "mainstream". Alkaline Trio has evolved into something new with this album. Many will like it, many wont. Some have said it's their best, others their worst. Want to know what I think? Well, I suspect you do if you've read this far. I don't know. Simply, it is a good album. I can't say it's their best because it is hard to compare it to their past releases. Listen to the singles they've put out and see if it is to your taste. Alkaline Trio seems to know there will be a rift, as they have released God Damn It (Goddamnit if you prefer), once again so it's much easier to find. If you don't like Agony and Irony just listen to that and enjoy the fact that they have not forgotten where they came from.