Alkaline Trio

Damnesia

Written by: PP on 21/08/2011 21:43:46

Disclaimer: Alkaline Trio is one of my all-time favorite bands, guaranteed fanboyism inside this review. But even objective outsiders have to admit "From Here To Infirmary" and "Goddamnit" into the hall of fame of melodic punk records, these two representing the cream of the crop in the genre with more unforgettable melodies and vocal lines than most good bands write in an entire career. That's why I was initially a little wary of the band doing the whole "Damnesia" project, which sees them take a cross-cut of their career classics and re-interpreting and re-arranging them in a semi-unplugged acoustic format, because there was always the danger that touching and modifying the old golden stuff would be a disastrous way to destroy some of the nostalgic moments found within their - no exaggeration here - amazing melodies and vocal dynamics.

It turns out all such worries weren't needed. If anything, "Damnesia" provides a unique opportunity to view seminal genre classics in a slightly different light and observe the band successfully keeping the original melodies largely intact, while automatically placing a much stronger focus on their brilliantly morbid and dark lyricism that shines through the otherwise happy and joyful melodies. And because the original melodies were so well-written in songs like "Nose Over Tail, "Clavicle", "Private Eye", or "This Could Be Love" among others, they don't mind being toyed around with slightly. But while many of these sound great in an acoustic/piano-led approach, the best work in "Damnesia" is hands down found within the extraordinary re-interpretation of newer tracks that I found either weak or badly produced, such as "Mercy Me" from the dreaded "Crimson" which suffered from a hollow production in an attempt to overplay the gothic undertones despite good songs hiding underneath the mix. It's here that the different approach re-ignites the original track and in many ways makes it sound even better.

Similar feeling applies also to the songs from the last two albums, which were good in their own right, but no match to the band's older material. "The American Scream" just sounds that much better when it has a quiet piano leading it than it does with the full electric guitar backing. In this sense it would have been immensely interesting to hear more songs from "Agony & Irony" and especially from 2005's "Crimson", because the older songs that were more punk have only minor differences imposed on them thanks to the very strict and tightly defined confines of raw punk that they were written in back then.

On top of Alkaline Trio covering themselves, they also have purpose-written two new songs on the record, "Olde English 800" and "I Remember A Rooftop". The former sounds weak, but the latter shows the high standard of songwriting that the band is known for, and should at some point make its way to their live repertoire as 'the acoustic track', unless the band continues to tour fully acoustically in the future, in which case many of these songs will be aired for sure.

Overall "Damnesia" is a good album, but not much more than that. Old fans will get a brief kick out of listening to their favorite band's songs in a slightly different format, but as "Private Eye" shows , for instance, the faster and more brighter melody on the original can still sound a hell of a lot better when standing side-by-side with each other. More importantly, though, "Damnesia" may be able to lure in some people who previously found Alkaline Trio too fast, too loud, or simply too punk, because of the strong focus on lyrics and simple mellowed down melodies on this one. Me, I still prefer the band's louder output by a long shot, but "Damnesia" is still a good album not because it has acoustic songs on it, but because it's full of songs that have been proven to be excellent already.

Download: Nose Over Tail, Mercy Me, The American Scream, Radio
For the fans of: Alkaline Trio, American Steel, GOB, acoustic punk songs
Listen: Myspace

Release date 12.07.2011
Heart & Skull / Epitaph

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