The Used


Written by: TL on 03/10/2009 15:44:52

Let's be honest, when it comes to new albums from The Used, it's always too easy to have poor expectations. Despite not really having done anything to solidify it lately (that I know of at least), frontman Bert McCracken is still a highly controversial and easy-to-despise figure in most people's minds. Maybe it's the fact that whenever he says something, it always seems to come out like it's meant to be in someone's face. Hence, revealing the cover for the band's fourth album "Artwork" and claiming that they had invented a whole new genre, "gross-pop", it's almost too easy to cry out "outrageous" and get ready to hate the new music.

So that's pretty much what I did when I first heard album opener and lead single "Blood On My Hands". Yes it kicks off with some solid riffage, and yes it bounces on at a nice and attitude-filled pace, but it's chorus simply doesn't do very well at resolving it's energy, it lyrics does little to convey depth and its structure is so painfully predictable, it's enough to make anyone fear for the ten coming tracks.

Fortunately though, the bad stuff is pretty much over after that one track. Or that is, it is over if you can embrace one single thought. Namely the inclusion of the word 'pop' in that 'gross-pop' term, because while I don't get what the 'gross' is about, the pop is definitely manifested in how guitars are only really added economically for dynamic effect during choruses, while verses mostly hover on top of a simple bass line and some very subtle guitar (or keyboard?) lines. Obviously this leaves a lot of responsibility resting on Bert's vocals, but while I've not always been a fan, his raving madness seems to be applied in exactly the right dozes throughout "Artwork", and if you add his ability to write catchy and memorable lyrics, then you have something that's actually quite hard to NOT get into.

Enter track two, "Empty With You", a song that I would've have easily chosen for a single over the previous song, as it's powerful buildup, soaring chorus and intense bridge, it's an instantly sweeping track that completely erases any negative feelings you might have had about the opener. It is followed by the bombastic anthem "Born To Quit", a song that, while not quite as good as "Empty With You", still pretty much hammers home the idea that The Used are out to thrill the same fans that dug My Chemical Romance's "The Black Rock Opera" (or whatever its name was). The same goes for the piano lead "Kissing You Goodby", as it is almost suffocatingly similar to the slower songs from that album. However, I'm forced to conclude that the formula still works, as I quickly find myself singing along to the chorus "No where to go/ I'm not leaving, not going/ I'm not kissing you goodbye/ on my own/ I'm nothing, just bleeding/ I'm not kissing you goodbye." It's as cheesy as it comes, but would you really expect anything else from The Used? And do you really mind when they make it work the way they've always done? Perhaps even better, since I don't have that feeling of annoyance that I tend to get while listening to them?

A major reason this works so well, I think also lies in its production. The mid tempo songs drift along in a perfectly darkened and sinister soundscape, that echoes just right when the massive exploitation of quiet/loud dynamics require the guitars to come in with full force. You get that same desperate feeling that other bands like HIM or LostAlone intend to impress upon you, but only manage with various degrees of success, and it compliments McCracken's bitter ravings as well as stripes on a tiger. And apart from this, consider that every song on offer is easily accessible, with emotionally engaging passages spread generously and angrily around them all. Just check out the closing duo "The Best Of Me" and "Men Are All The Same". They showcase perfectly how the lyrics, despite being so bitter and angry it's borderline childish, are delivered by McCracken in a way that certifies that he means fuckin' business. Personally the former of the two is my favourite at the moment, again catching me with an irresistible buildup: "I could forget how you had tried to get the best of me/ you'd never forget that you NEVER GOT ME!".

So yeah, if you can forget that "Artwork" is about as far as can be from a metallic, guitar-heavy screamo record that would be the norm in today's scene, and much more based in classic exploitation of the whisper/scream combination, then you'll probably join me in this observation: This is the most mature and most consistent The Used album yet, and the one that puts its listeners in the least danger of feeling like whiny teenagers just from listening to it. It's not quite up there with "The Black Parade" I think, but it's certainly better than what the other two bands filed below have generally had to offer, and as such, for the both the young black-clad, makeup wearing teenagers and us others who secretly enjoy their music, this should be good for a decent number of spins while we wait for the next MCR album.


Download: The Best Of Me, Empty With You
For The Fans Of: My Chemical Romance, LostAlone, HIM

Release Date 31.08.2009
Reprise Records

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