Monday, September 26, 2005
CD Review: Against Me! - Searching For A Former Clarity
The pre-release lowdown on Searching For A Former Clarity was that it stretched the boundaries of punk rock. I don't know if punk rock really needs its boundaries stretched by slowing the tempos and adding a can of studio polish that wasn't really needed. Flipper was probably the first punk group to slow it down and it's going to take much more talent than Against Me has to even come close to that sort of quality. A weighty inertia sabotages the proceedings and it likely leaves fans of Against Me's previous works scratching their head.
It's not that radical a departure. The usual themes are present concerning paranoia, corruption, selling out, self loathing, and the music industry. On paper it appears that Against Me should have come up with a killer album. The devil is in the details - the album is produced by ex-Jawbox D.C. stalwart J. Robbins and maybe that's the fly in the ointment. Credit should ultimately be given to Against Me's frontman, songwriter, and guiding light Tom Gabel for the ponderous sludgery present.
He rails against the city of Miami, Florida on the succinctly titled "Miami" which plods and stumbles as the leadoff batter of this fourteen song foray into mediocrity. Which happens to be the title of the second track; mediocrity that is as in "Mediocrity Gets You Pears (The Shaker)" which seems to be about some standard of purity versus selling out. My theory is that we sell out as soon as we're born. As Richard Hell wrote, "It's a gamble when you get a face" so even though the song actually verges on beng uptempo I'm just not that impressed or concerned about it. Stereotypes abound on the song "Justin" which tries to be about the horror of war. I just get hung up on the line "jocks and assholes still don't know shit about aesthetics" which just comes off whiny and too chiseled in stone to allow that a jock and an asshole somewhere might actually know something about aesthetics.
"Unprotected Sex With Multiple Partners" is about working in the music industry which is beyond dull except for the small inkling of a disco beat lurking around like a wallflower at a high school dance. A few songs recall Gabel's beginnings as an acoustic troubadour, but they are marred by his singular propensity of screaming every word in the same shrill monotone which I guess is supposed to impart a heavy meaning to every syllable, but actually works against the words over the course of the record. They all tend to lose any coloring except for loud. The "jocks and assholes" line doesn't seem so bad by the time you get to track fourteen. I did enjoy the song "Holy Shit!" for its judicious use of the exclamation point, its take on the surreal nature of reality, and the fact that its a tune you actually sing along with.
So Searching For A Former Clarity left me searching for the off button on my CD player. It will find an audience with the rabid Against Me fans and others I'm sure. And that's cool. To quote from a song of my youth, "the world don't move to the beat of just one drum". Against Me is on the Fat Wreck Chords label and they are the headline act on the Fat Tour 2005 which will make it to every state in this great union so you'll have the chance to see if I'm wrong or right.
Posted by Wally Bangs