Wednesday, August 24, 2005

"Against Integrity?" Only if you've got the mentality of a grade schooler...

First off, it is official, Against Me has
"sold out". For the love of Johnny Rotten, the young punks might as well have signed to a major label instead of sticking it out with Fat (for now). Egads, they've hired a PR firm, are playing huge arena shows with Green Day and Jimmy Eat World, touring all 50 states, probably soon to be appearing in Rolling Stone & Spin, on the Conan O'Brien show, TRL, and sucking Clear Channel dick to get played on the radio, who knows?

But, more importantly, who should really care?

I haven't seen such an asinine backlash against a band since the days of the Gilman kids making "Billy Joe Must Die!" graffitti in the hallowed halls of that dive. "What is punk?", "Who is/isn't punk?", "Who has sold out?" Same pointless, boring rehash of discussion surrounding bands since I was like 12 years old arguing w/ buddies about which band was "speed metal" vs. "thrash metal" vs. "power metal" and who were just "poseur hair bands." I mean, ya-awn.

Anyone with any kind of clue should realize that the only important thing about music is whether you dig it or you don't. Regardless of personal politics, personalities, financial statements, or what logo is on the sleeve. Sometimes I've outgrown a band, sometimes maybe they've outgrown me. Sometimes they just start putting out music I don't find particularly interesting, and, yes, sometimes they just plain start to really suck.

That's how it goes. Bands that put out the same album over and over again are just as uninteresting as bands who try new or unexpected (and unsuccessful) musical directions. Sometimes it works, often it don't. You go along for the ride or you bail. Pretty simple, really.

Now, it's rare for a band to totally abandon their core sound and still be any good, sure. In those cases, I've always advocated giving up your name recognition and starting a new project rather than try to keep cashing in with the name while your guitar player is really putting out solo material.

However, what can be really exciting is when a band starts off as a relatively straight-forward simple act and gets more mature, learns to play their instruments, writes better songs, and challenges themselves to put out better and better music with each release. Again, sometimes learning to play their instruments is a real death knell (Less Than Jake comes to mind; they starting going downhill around the time Chris learned to play guitar in my opinion).

Any music scene has only a relatively small percentage of great bands and an even smaller percentage of bands that have the potential to transcend their own genre and become something truly special.

I believe Against Me is one of those truly special bands. Seeing them live, you just know they should be playing to sold-out audiences, getting Grammys, and everyone should just dig on this band. Sure, it will suck when your mom asks you to play the new Against Me record and all the jocks have pink lightning bolt t-shirts, but damnit, some bands deserve to be heard and make a living playing music.

With Searching for a Former Clarity AM may have jumped the gun a bit, making their "fuck you" album in response to growing popularity (their In Utero, Vitalogy, or Insomniac) before the soccer moms and jocks have jumped on their bandwagon. What remains to be seen is if it's their Dear You. Perhaps it will be their Pinkterton.

Insomniac always struck me as somewhat of a petulant album, with Green Day trying to prove they were really more "punk" than they ever were to begin with. Vitalogy was just a terrible-sounding album that I thought was meant to shed PJ of as many fans as possible (it kinda worked). Hard to say where Nirvana would have ended up after In Utero. They were on the road to disbanding before Cobain blew up. Pinkterton was a commercial flop and put Weezer on the brink...but it seemed to grow in popularity with the emo kids long after its release, as did Dear You. Weezer survived to see another day, but Jawbreaker imploded shortly after Dear You's release and subsequent backlash from the kids over their having "sold out" and making such a slick and different-sounding record.

Now, I've seen Against Me compared to the Clash a bit, and I can't put my finger on exactly why, but that comparison always comes to my mind as well. Trying to describe AM's sound to someone is difficult. Billy Bragg meets the Clash, but y'know, w/o the British accents, is about as close as I can do it. They have their own unique blend of punk, folk, country, and blues. I'm currently on the fence about whether I think Clarity is destined to be a critical sucess but commercial flop. As a general rule, I truly dislike bands writing songs about writing songs, being in a band, touring, fighting with fans, struggling with "selling out," etc, etc. To me it signals real trouble if that's all you have left to write about. In my opinion, it takes what can be a universal art form and reduces it to an elitist and narrow audience of who can relate to such songs.

However, I have to say it doesn't bother me so much with this record. I think it is a great album. One of my favorite songs, "Unprotected Sex With Multiple Partners," is exactly the kind of lyrical subject matter I would usually disdain with extreme prejudice. The redone songs from the never-to-be-officially-released Stolen Demos are excellent, even if I do personally slightly prefer some of the demo versions. I feel those five tracks ("Miami," "How Low," "Joy," "Holy Shit!," and "Problems") are among the strongest on the record. The first single, "Don't Lose Touch," is a fitting first notice to fans with a death-grip on their 1st pressing Axl Rose LPs that there is something different going on here (lyrically and musically, as well as what they can do with their reactionary message board postings).

This is sure to be a divisive record even for their current fanbase (I'm pretty sure the old guard fans all shouted sell-out when they signed to Fat and have moved on to hoping This Bike is a Pipe Bomb never sells more than 100 records), and I'm not sure yet if it's the type of record that will immediately catapault them into superstardom. It will certainly be interesting to see the reaction this record gets and Against Me's response to it. Can they move past the, seemingly excessive at this point, Cobain-level angst over their growing popularity and the hater 16-year-old couch potatoes and armchair QBs so heart-broken that Tom isn't playing their local laundromat in front of 5 people?

I really hope they get to pow-wow with Green Day a bit during those arena shows. I can think of no people better suited to mentor AM than Billy Joe, Dirnt, and Tre.

If they can get past the haters and come to grips with their identity as artists, I think they can make some more amazing music down the road and continue to be one of the great bands of the decade. Even at their worst, they're still better than most.

Release Date: Sept. 6th
One Sheet
MP3: "Don't Lose Touch"


Anonymous visitor by way of said...

Really good review. I love this album.

2:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Agreed...You took the words right out of my mouth with this review (and put them way more elegantly). Personally, I love the music here and feel that AM! can do no wrong but this album does feel like they are testing the waters a bit...

8:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If they can get past the haters and come to grips with their identity as artists

you an art school drop out? thanks for the review. you rpob spent 3 hours on this and told us nothing about the album.

must be after a career working for Rolling stone or NME

10:47 PM  

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