White Crosses WILL alienate the last few old school Against Me! fans who stuck around even after their slick and accessible major label debut, New Wave. Not only have the songs gradually become less punk and more pop, but formerly gruff vocalist Tom Gabel has been screaming less and (gasp!) singing more. The biggest nail in the coffin of the Gainesville band’s formerly punk rock past, however, comes in the form of the song “I Was a Teenage Anarchist.”
I was a teenage anarchist, but then the scene got too rigid / It was a mob mentality, they set their rifle sights on me / Narrow visions of autonomy, you want me to surrender my identity / I was a teenage anarchist, the revolution was a lie.
Ironically, singing a song about maturing out of anarchy was one of the most punk things Against Me! could have possibly done — unapologetically raising their middle finger to all those former fans who’ve been shouting “sell-out” ever since they signed to Sire Records in 2005. And the best part is — the song is an anthemic sing-along sure to spur a pit at the live shows.
There are plenty of songs to get excited about on this, their fifth album, but overshadowing the album as a whole is how closely it relates to Green Day’s efforts. The title track begins with a drum part and guitar riff a little too similar to “Know Your Enemy.” “Because of the Shame” has a quiet piano intro for driving into a powerpop song much like “Viva La Gloria!” They even, for the first time ever, play a straight up jerking-on-the-heartstrings ballad (“Ache With Me”) that could be their attempt at scoring a sentimental slow song a la “(Good Riddance) Time of Your Life” or “Wake Me Up When September Ends.” It’s a bold move, and they get points for the attempt, but it’s quite a painful listen (and not in a good way). Slow songs and piano parts?! On an Against Me! record?! Yep, piano creeps up again on “We’re Breaking Up,” a song that would not have sounded out of place on a John Hughes movie soundtrack.
The band, whose lineup now includes Hot Water Music’s George Rebelo on drums, experiments a lot on this Butch Vig-produced release. “High Pressure Low” taps into their New Order influence, “Suffocation” is a glorious pop song with an irresistible groove, and “Spanish Moss” begins like a shout-out to The Who. Lyrically, just about every song is about determination in the face of adversity. They seem poised and ready for criticism, with their middle fingers cocked and ready.
If arenas are what Against Me! have set their sights on, that’s perfectly reasonable. I admire a band for being honest about its ambition — especially one that came out of the indie-obsessed community of punk rock — but they should get there following their own path, not someone else’s. They’re more than capable of getting there on the power of their music and their live shows alone.
If New Wave was Against Me! at their finest, then White Crosses is their transitional record between what they were and what they’re on their way to becoming. With that said, it’s still a highly enjoyable record!
Against Me!: www.againstme.net