Sound — 6
For starters, I'd like to establish that I like Rise Against. I've seen them live, twice, and I maintain that 'Siren Song of the Counter Culture' is one of the best pop punk/rock albums of the last few years. Their latest offering, with the ever-subtle title 'The Sufferer and the Witness' is a wonderfuly recorded, high energy number that firmly cements them in place as one of those bands that teenagers will be skateboarding to/terrorizing the bourgeiose with for a long time. So why can't I get into it at all? For starters, it's nothing groundbreaking. As per last album, R.A. begin by establishing that no, they haven't sold out, by giving us a taste of their punk rock credentials. However, unlike 'State of the Union', 'Chamber the Cartridge', while it ticks all the right punkrock boxes (200bpm double time drums? check. three chords? check. anthemic crowd 'whoahs'? I digress.), there's a definite sense that R.A. are making a lot of noise without saying much. Ditto for track two. 'Injection', manages to rehash the chords to'Black Masks and Gasoline' while being absolutely lacklustre. It's poppy without being catchy. A bad combination. So far it's Inspiration - 0 and things are not looking good for our vegan heroes. And it's only track three. 'Ready to Fall' is probably the song that best exemplifies this album. There's a tasty prechorus burst that manages to sound both like classic Rise Against and like nothing they've done before- however, just as we're treated to this moment, sonically akin to the clouds parting and the sun shining through, we are subjected to possibly the most mediocre punk chorus ever. It's not bad per se, it's just so impossibly average that it's hard to imagine how the band that wrote 'Give it All' came up with this. So track Four and we're up to the equivilant of 'Dead Ringer' where our angsty protagonists reiterate their hardcore punk roots. The monosylabic title 'Brick' perfectly embodies this song- blunt and simple. However, the overriding feeling is that the place for songs such as this in the past. As a result of it's inclusion, Rise Against manage to alienate the fans of their more poppy sound, while the fact their are only two hardcore punk songs on the album doesnt't really bother any of their hardcore punk fans who refuse to listen to anything after Revolutions Per Minute. However, five tracks in, there is a glimmer of hope in the form of 'Under the Knife'. While the intro is heavily reminiscent of the bridge to 'Tip The Scales', there is a semblance of originality in the form of the first catchy lyrics of the album- McIrath's solitary 'Wake me up inside' is perhaps one of the best sounding moments on the record. Luckily R.A. manage to continue this winning streak with 'Prayer of the Refugee' (which originally had the far cooler title 'Diaspora'). This is what the album should have sounded like. The combination of solemn, slow verse and soaring, uptempo chorus makes this easily the most musically interesting and the catchiest song on the record. Plus a sweet guitar break. Guitar feedback leads us into 'Drones', and though it has the distict feel that they wrote it in all of five minutes it's one of the most enjoyable moments of the record. Though the albums previous attempts to blast archetypal hardcore punk at us have fallen flat, this song succeeds effortlesly (albeit by re-appropriating the intro to 'f--k Authority by Pennywise. listen to the bridge). 'The Approaching Curve' is particularly frustrating to listen to, and not just because it intially sounds like a blink-182 cover band playing 'Invalid Litter Dept.' by At the Drive-In. No, it's because they managed to pair a decent anthemic chorus with verses that are nigh on impossible to listen to. Kudos for trying something different but both the beat poetry and the female vocals hinder rather than help. The following track 'Worth Dying For' is another example of R.A coupling unimaginative verses with an impossibly good chorus, to the extreme detriment of the song. The tail end of the album is a bit of a mixed bag. 'Behind Closed Doors' leaves a bitter taste in your ear canal- though it's catchy and fun and as pop punk as can be, you get the sense of a band past it's prime. The obligatory ballard 'Roadside' lets McIrath's voice shine but the overproduced feel (read: criminal abuse of cello) diminishes the emotion behind it. 'The Good Left Undone' is identical to 'Ready to Fall' in relation to both the chorus and level of mediocrity. The closer 'Survive' provides relief, ironically in the form of more frantic rhythms, but also by providing a different voice to deliver the punkrock spiel, and the classy time signature change to the chorus finishes off the album nicely. Unfortunately the pristine recording quality of the album ultimately serves to undermine the subversive political messages. As Tim McIrath conveys his angst using his gravelly (yet beautifuly recorded) voice using the political magnetic poetry set the band has had for the last five years as inspiration, the listen gets the unsettling sense that this is, in fact, the siren song of mass culture. While the band may argue that their polished new sound helps their message reach a larger audience, there is ultimately a sinking feeling that the mainstream has changed Rise Against much more than Rise Against has changed the mainstream.
Lyrics — 7
While Tim McIrath manages to maintain his reputation as one of punk rocks best vocalists, he doesn't necessarily push himself to new heights either. It's hard to ask for more from the guy, who sounds like he's about to explode with the intensity of the emotion inside him every verse, but the exploration of his softer side on this record('Roadside') manages to sound like a Simple Plan tune.
Overall Impression — 6
While the album does have some decent tracks on it, it's nothing on their previous two releases: fans of their poppier material will prefer Siren Song of the Counter Culture, which hardcore enthusiasts will much prefer the viceral quality to Revolutions Per Minute. All in all, it's a loose/loose situation that manages to please nobody.