With their fifth full-length album, and second on major label, Sire, Gainesville, Florida’s Against Me! return with a disc which runs the gamut from rich and textured melodies to the harder-hitting urgency more traditionally associated with punk music.
Taking into account front-man Tom Gabel’s recent return to the world of acoustic folk-rock from which this band has its roots (see Music Vice’s review of his live show, here), it is clear that many of the songs on White Crosses started out life as simpler, folkier tunes which have been subsequently sped up, distorted, swung around and built upon. Sometimes this is done with great effect, such as the beautifully layered verses of “Because of the Shame”, but in other instances the ‘punking up’ of the songs does little but detract from the impact one imagines they would have originally had; the guitar melody which opens “High Pressure Low”, for example. Similarly, the reggae-influenced opening of “Ache With Me”, serves to distract the listener from what is in fact a rather touching song which thanks to over-production, sounds like an out-take from whatever rock-opera Green Day are currently working on.
This album certainly has its high-points though. Opener and title track, “White Crosses” is a punchy, upbeat anthem which is bound to be a sing-along crowd favourite in time. This is followed immediately by the equally energetic “I Was A Teenage Anarchist” – if only this pace could be maintained for the duration of the album. In fact, it is not until the final two tracks of this ten-song release that this energy really returns; ‘start strong, end strong’ seems to be the band’s philosophy here. Penultimate number, “Rapid Decompression” would be at home on any number of Ramones records, were it not for Gabel’s distinct vocal style; and closer “Bamboo Bones” is classic, inspiring Against Me!
The lesson here, if there is one, is that rock songs should be rocking, and the folk songs should be bare, and rarely the twain should meet. It’s a good thing that when this album is rocking, it really delivers.
© Steve Pass, Music Vice