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Music, Reviews

[Sort of a] Review: White Crosses by Against Me!

The idea for this post was to share my thoughts about the newest Against Me! album, White Crosses, which I assure you I intend to do, but it may turn out that this article won’t really be a review, in the traditional sense.  That being said, I suppose we’ll run with it and see where we end up.

Many long-time Against Me! fans didn’t care too much for White Crosses.  Which I understand, I suppose, from a mindset that says each release has to sound the same as the previous records.  However, I think that sonic and lyrical growth is something that contributes to a good record.  Artists like Radiohead have made a career out of reinventing themselves on each record, which may partly be why Radiohead is one of my favorite artists.  Some artists have a formula, and it works, and I don’t necessarily disapprove of that.  But when an artist can display any kind maturation with a release, I believe that is what makes both a great record, and an artist with some semblance of staying power.

White Crosses shows a great deal of maturation, which I love to see in subsequent records, both in terms of the songwriting and attitude from Against Me!, and production from Butch Vig (a producer whose awesomeness I hope to someday match).  It has come a long way from the days of the raw, somewhat under-produced sounds of albums like 2002’s The Eternal Cowboy and 2007’s New Wave (between which there was still a significant jump in production quality).

The most important display of maturation on White Crosses, however, lies in the songwriting and the lyrics of Against Me!’s brain, Tom Gabel.  Sonically speaking, White Crosses contains less of the gritty punk rock influences (The Stooges, Fugazi, The Clash) than previous records, with more intricately arranged instrumentation (some songs, such as “Because of the Shame,” even open with piano!).

Punk rock has always been a somewhat crude genre, with generally untalented musicians.  That is in no way meant to be a criticism, as I view the punk movement as one of the most important in music history.  I have immense amounts of respect for artists like Iggy Pop, Minor Threat, and The Clash for their contributions to the way that music has morphed and fragmented over the last few decades.  That being said, I will reiterate: these artists were relatively untalented musicians, which they more than made up for in attitude and passion.  The music was still important, relevant, meaningful, and awesome, but most punk rock bands didn’t stay around very long.  For example, the shortest and simultaneously most relevant career in punk rock belongs (arguably) to the Sex Pistols.

Against Me!’s earlier work more or less fits into this description.  Important, relevant, gritty, but ultimately sophomoric.  However, White Crosses counters just that.  Lyrically speaking, Tom Gabel has matured a great deal, and his more adult-like world view is apparent in several songs such as “I Was a Teenage Anarchist”:

I was a teenage anarchist / But then the scene got too rigid
It was 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 lie

Do you remember when you were young
And you wanted to set the world on fire

…and “Suffocation”:

We were star-crossed / We were destitute
Our words spoke mass destruction
We watched the sun rise in the morning
Daughters in arm, we all are orphans

White Crosses is, in my opinion, a phenomenal record.  I would recommend it to fans of Against Me! and punk rock and music in general with only one caveat: keep an open mind and open ears, sonically and lyrically.

So…it seems that what we’ve ended up with here is part album review, part essay on embracing artistic and musical growth within an artist.  Just for fun, I suppose I’ll rate the album, but the most important thing to remember is that musical maturation is (usually) a good thing.

Against Me! – White Crosses [8.5/10]

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