Release Date: 31st August 2018
Stuck in lessons I hated, learning about things I didn’t care about, one of my only solaces in high school was to draw out tattoo designs that I’d plan to get. The Alkaline Trio logo was an essential though I never could quite make my mind up on what quote would be written around it, there were just too many catchy, dark one liners to choose from. Alkaline Trio felt like a band that made music exclusively for me, as if we had our own secret language that others just didn’t get; the few people I knew that were into rock didn’t like or know of them, they were my band. I was fully immersed in the world of pop-punk but they were the one group that captivated me like no other. What I didn’t realise then is that there were thousands with that very same logo tattoo – they had the same beautiful effect on many.
As the years rolled on, the Trio became less of my present day favourite band and more of a go-to for a bit of nostalgia. Their albums came and went, they experimented with new sounds and left me reminiscing about the days where I’d sit there and decide whether their logo should be coloured in or not.
Cut to the release of ‘Blackbird’ this year and my first listen to single #1 from Alkaline Trio’s new album, Is This Thing Cursed?. It was a strange phenomenon that took me away from 2018 and right back to the days I’d play Crimson on a loop. It wasn’t just the sound of Matt Skiba’s voice that took me away either, it was the fact that the band haven’t produced anything of this quality in over 10 years, and they’ve returned with a song as good as the best they ever made.
‘Blackbird’ follows a tick list that features every aspect of what make Alkaline Trio songs so special yet never for a second sounds unoriginal or of the past. Perhaps it’s a compliment to their old-school records and their timeless classic feel or maybe it just shows how fantastically the band have managed to move with the times and mature their sound. There’s a chorus that could move mountains, fuzzed up, high gain dark guitars and the best part of all is drummer, Derek Grant doing what he does best by fueling the whole song with his punchy, reliable drum foundation.
‘Blackbird’ is its own self-collected story much like each song on classic Alk3 albums, it stands alone as its own entity despite being part of a collective. Fortunately, many songs on Is This Thing Cursed? follow ‘Blackbird’ stylistically; unfortunately they often lack that certain something that sets them apart from the pack, their own identity. These tracks come and go, like ear candy giving you instant satisfaction but never providing any real value. ‘Little Help’ is the Dan Andriano led quick folky shanty, ‘Pale Blue Ribbon’ has aspects of modern Blink-182, ‘Goodbye Fire Island’ is a reflection on the infamous Fyre Festival and ‘Sweet Vampires’ is a staple Alk3 dark love song. None are offensive, they don’t overstay their welcome, but unfortunately they also don’t provide anything of worth that sticks it out once the record draws to a close.
Despite the troughs in the album, Is This Thing Cursed? is home to songs that stand up to some of the bands best material, and at the heart of them is often Derek Grant’s drums. The ever reliable drummer drives songs like ‘Heart Attacks’ forward by managing to sound perfectly creative without ever overpowering what’s going on around him or sounding too flashy. Coming in at around the 45 second mark on ‘Stay’, he knows exactly how to power along a song whether he’s going all in or hanging back with clicks. Incidentally, these are two of the best songs on the record; trading off between Andriano and Skiba’s vocals and showing just how timeless this bands sound are. Similarly to 2003’s Good Mourning, Alkaline Trio end the record on a guitar led acoustic ballad, this one’s called Krystalline and while it doesn’t quite pack as much of an emotional punch as the aforementioned ‘Blue In the Face’, it’s still a stunning way to send off the record. It’s sung with a level of passion that’s stayed strong since the Trio’s inception and never veers too far from the bands darker side as it ends with ominous haunting voices, sounds and crackles.
Is This Thing Cursed? is a record littered with lyrical content that sounds like it came straight from the mind of David Lynch, and it’s this above all that made me fall in love with the peaks of the album. Alkaline Trio haven’t lost an inch of what made them so perfect to me; the death, shock and horror expertly weaved into melodic punk, the interplay between the three members and a sound that to this day somehow still draws together all of my favourite influences. Maybe it’s time to get the sketchbook back out and an Alkaline Trio logo on my body?
Recommended Track: Blackbird, Heart Attacks