Against Me!
New Wave

by Blair Boyer

There have been few punk albums as widely anticipated as Against Me!'s fourth LP, New Wave. The Floridian quartet have received ongoing criticism from their fan base since December 2005 when they signed with major label Sire, previously home to the Ramones and the Replacements

2005's Searching For A Former Clarity (Fat Wreck Chords, 2005) was a departure in itself from the quicker, less produced material on Reinventing Axl Rose (No Idea, 2002) and As The Eternal Cowboy (Fat Wreck Chords, 2003), and although New Wave is often similar to its predecessor, fans of the band's earlier material will need to approach this release with an open mind to avoid being disappointed. 

Having said that, New Wave is the most consistent album the band has released. Vocalist Tom Gabel has commented in recent interviews that one of the attractions of Sire was the prospect of an extended stay in the studio. Sire didn't let them down. Whereas Reinventing Axl Rose was recorded in one day, and As the Eternal Cowboy in one week, New Wave was recorded over a six month period with none other than Butch Vig (Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins , Sonic Youth) at the helm. Bearing this in mind, even the most ardent Against Me! fan would admit that Vig has produced the poppiest and slickest record the band has ever released. But this is not necessarily a bad thing. 

Part of Against Me's appeal was always their ability to resist strict genre classification, and it is understandable that Gabel, Bowman, Oakes and Seward want to create something fresh on each album. The common denominator that links New Wave with Against Me!'s back catalogue is the insight and incisiveness of Gabel's lyrics, along with the band's passionate - almost rabid - delivery, and it is these attributes that ensure New Wave rises above the average rock record.

Opening track 'New Wave' - although not the strongest offering here - sets the scene for much of the album's lyrical content as Gabel sings "C'mon and wash these shores away…I'm looking for the crest of a new wave." 'Up The Cuts', with a typically anthemic chorus, criticises the homogenised and predictable nature of the music industry with a chorus that laments "Is there anybody thinking what I am? Are you restless like me?" Second single 'Thrash Unreal' is bound to attract criticism from some long term fans for its poppy chorus, but the irony of Bowman's bright backing vocals set against Gabel's melancholy story of a life-long junkie is a highlight of the album, and with the support of a major label it is hard to imagine this song not becoming a hit.

The first single from the album - 'White People For Peace' - has polarized opinion thus far. At first glance it is another anti-war song; at second glance an anti anti-war song. The truth is that whilst WPFP takes a shot at the countless token anti-war songs written in the wake of the US invasion of Iraq, it also acknowledges the need for these songs and bemoans their futility: "protest songs in response to military aggression, protest songs can't stop the soldiers' guns, the battle raged on." A "Butch Vig Remix" of this track is available for streaming on the band's website.

Fifth track 'Stop' is where Gabel & Co. really change things up. Far and away the danciest number Against Me! has released, Bowman's guitar has a distinct 'Edge' to it and Gabel tones down the growl long enough for us to hear him rail against the excesses of the music industry, urging young bands to "stop and take some time to think" and "figure out what's important to you." Wise words to be sure for any aspiring punk band, but perhaps a little difficult for some fans to swallow given the recent defection to Sire. 

"Borne on the FM Waves" sees Tegan Quinn of Tegan & Sara share vocal duties with Gabel in a tender but intensifying song that honestly documents the paranoia and fragile emotions laid bare in a failing relationship. 'Piss and Vinegar' is another stand out track and has some of Gabel's best lyrics as he demands frankness from his peers and an end to the kind of sycophancy that makes him "feel like a politician." 'Americans Abroad' was first released as a live track on 'Americans Abroad!!! Against Me!!! Live In London!!!' and has been a live staple ever since. 'Animal' is a little slower and dirtier than its predecessors and recalls the heavier material on Searching For A Former Clarity, such as 'Violence' and 'Holy Shit'. In some respects it is the antithesis of the broken romance painted in 'Borne on the FM Waves', with Gabel singing about unbridled animal instinct and betrayal.

'Ocean', the album closer, is a more melodic number that falls down lyrically. It sounds like Gabel's pre-pubescent attempt at creative writing and sags at the seams with clichés despite its contemplative nautical aesthetic. With only ten tracks on the album and a relatively weaker closing track in 'Ocean', it is difficult to understand why great new tracks like the thumping 'Full Sesh' - already released as a B-Side to 'White People For Peace' - could not have been included on New Wave as well. 

With 4 LPs, 4 EPs, a live compilation and a DVD ('We're Never Going Home') released since 2000, it is clear that Against Me! are both prolific and innovative musicians unafraid to break new ground and reinvent themselves on an album-by-album basis.  New Wave will confirm for many old fans what they have righteously predicted since the move from No Idea to Fat Wreck Chords in 2003. For those previously unacquainted with Against Me! - or current fans unperturbed by the prospect of change - New Wave may be as good as it gets in 2007.

The real debate that will follow the release of this album is whether it represents a deviation from the band's anarchic beliefs and a rejection of their DIY punk ethos. This debate will be fought passionately on forums and bulletin boards across the internet for months to come with no hope of consensus being reached. If the history of punk music has taught us anything, it is that you can't make all of the punks happy all of the time and that, for many, it's more enjoyable to be 'anti' everything than 'pro' anything. There will be far less debate about the quality of the album though. If the choice was between New Wave or treading water, true fans will embrace this album for what it is, not what it isn't.

 

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