Against Me! has essentially thrusted their middle fingers right into the consumers" faces with the release of their third album, Searching for a Former Clarity, and we"re suddenly forced to discover that this is not in the slightest about us; it"s about the music.
Amid a whirlwind of controversy for their actions, Against Me! could be one of the most hyped and popular bands in the underground circuit. They"ve certainly gained a reputation by releasing two mind-numbingly fantastic, anarcho-folk-punk albums and touring relentlessly (and with an invigorating live show to boot!) for the better part of the last eight years. So it goes without saying that pretty much the entire underground world has been waiting for (and scrutinizing) Against Me! for everything they do.
Well, fuck all the internet naysayers. No matter how many people will complain about how Against Me! are opening for Green Day in stadiums, or how they"re not on No Idea anymore, or how terrible it is that they"re pulling Crime off Plan-It-X Records, the second they spin this album, they will then have to promptly insert their foot into their mouth.
Searching for a Former Clarity opens with "Miami," a rousing song that"s certainly going to become a crowd favorite for its sing-a-long friendly chorus, the band added horns to this song for the bridge. However, what really stood out the first time I heard this song was the lyrics. What makes this album a bazillion times more amazing and a bazillion times more meaningful is the content and substance to each of the songs. Likening their current situation to being in shark-infested waters, Against Me! have become the kings of the extended metaphor. And then they go and drop a line like, "All hope has been abandoned like ballots drifting into the ocean." My heart has already been won.
The one song that I"ve found that people hate the most is "Unprotected Sex with Multiple Partners." The Franz Ferdinand comparisons have been flying left and right and I"ve routinely heard how people discount the new album solely on this song. The song is incredibly catchy and the opening beat is a bit dancey; the comparison, however, is completely ludicrous and unfounded. Perhaps one of the better songs this band has written, it"s a lyrical assault on the music industry and, once again, full of bitter sarcasm. "Do you want to know how it feels on the inside?" we"re asked. Before we can even protest, Tom Gabel let"s us know: It"s a drag. "Just how desperate can we be?" he proclaims. "Go buy our record and see," the band responds.
The in-your-face honesty only continues in "From Her Lips to God"s Ears (The Energizer)," a rather scathing indictment of the Bush administration. The song is directed towards Condoleeza Rice and is a series of claims and questions. A more straightforward Against Me! song, the final verse and chorus could be my favorite part of any Against Me! song ever. "The President"s giving a speech in Georgetown to remember the voice of a slain civil rights leader. Do you understand what the Martyr stood for? Oh Condoleeza, do you get the fucking joke?" In a moment of harmonized desperation, the band sings, "Condoleeza? What are we gonna do now?" to furiously pounded power chords. Fucking. Genius.
"Violence" is another whopper of a song, both lyrically and musically, for this band. Once again experimenting with using only the bass and drums for most of the song, it contains some of Against Me!"s more fearful lyrics. "What could we have done to deserve a violence like this?" the band pines as an intruder lurks outside their door. Once again, the band has taken an important social issue and managed to express their opinion in a concise and powerful manner. The images of the "footsteps coming down the hall" resound in my mind. Brilliant.
But just when I decide that "Violence" is brilliant, there is the song, "How Low." This song is their "Pints of Guinness Make You Strong." It"s their "Turn Those Clapping Hands Into Angry, Balled Fists." It"s the epic, all-together awe-inspiring track that will become a crowd favorite fairly quickly. With a slight country feel to it, the song chronicles Gabel"s battle with mediocrity in his own life, and how he continues to find himself drunk at "fucking two o"clock in the morning." It"s a slower song, but man, does it pack a punch! This is my favorite song on the album.
"Joy" is the only acoustic song on the album, as the band has chosen a more energetic route for most of the instrumentation. A slightly depressing song, it"s easily one of the more personal songs that Gabel has written. My favorite line: "All around us is a great failing. American rockets red glare in a most disgusting triumph. In passing, I am asked do you believe in a god? I shrug off the answer, continue to get high. In this terror of no explanation, I am looking for a faith, my panic is an only reason."
The ultimate middle finger on this album is "Even at Our Worst We"re Still Better than Most (The Roller)." A song that directly addresses the "internet drama" and shit-talk fest that seems to surround the band, it"s one of those songs that starts out with only the guitar and each instrument comes in independently, building up the tension of the song until the band is singing, full volume, "You know they"re waiting! You know they"re waiting! You know they"re waiting to tear us apart." A rather depressing outing for the band, it"s about how they"ve all given up fighting the fans and having to justify who they are and what they do. It"s moments like this that make me respect this band more and more; even further, when do you encounter bands who right such honest material? You don"t and it"s wonderfully refreshing.
The album closes with "Problems," the first song I"d heard from this album, "Don"t Lose Touch," the "single," and "Searching for a Former Clarity." The former two are upbeat, catchy, lyrically smart, and strong Against Me! songs. But the album closer is jaw-dropping amazing and one of the most depressing songs I"ve ever heard. Addressing death in a matter-of-fact manner, the song is slow, brooding, and like an emotional bitch-slap to our collective faces. What I love so much about this song (and album) is that Against Me! aren"t afraid to address issues that deserve attention, even if they aren"t controversial social or political topics. A case in point is this song, with musings of an unnamed person"s final moments before death. I soon find myself questioning my mortality and what I"m doing in my life now; I find myself repeating the lyric, "Will everyone you ever meet or love be just a relationship based on false presumption? Despite everyone you meet or love, in the end, will you be all alone?"
There is a unique profundity in Gabel"s lyrics that"s virtually absent in modern music. The urgency and the anger that possesses this album isn"t a neatly packaged commodity that we"re being sold by Giantcom Records; it"s a small piece of honesty from four guys who simply mean what they say. I"ve heard that Against Me! sounds more mature on this album; I disagree. They sound as youthful as ever; their passionate dissatisfaction with the way the world is not coming from a group of men, old in their age, reflecting on life, or simply accepting their inevitable fate. No, Against Me! is fighting the whole way like a teenager breaking free of his parents and from high school; only this time, the kid is armed with years of experience on the road, battling the music industry, his own fans and, ultimately, himself.
This album is easily one of the most personable albums I"ve ever heard; it"s one of the most memorable and the one I can relate to the most. This is our generation"s version of some of the great punk classics. I wasn"t around for London Calling or Sandinista!. I"d barely been born when Damaged hit the ears of punks across Southern California. And I certainly wasn"t old enough to remember when Suffer was released.
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Maybe because of these things, I"m biased towards Against Me! However, I think anyone who is a fan of music with a meaning will admire this album and this band. I sure know that I do.