ALBUM REVIEW: Alkaline Trio – Is This Thing Cursed?
Photo Credit: Jon Weiner
It’s been a long, nervous wait for fans of Alkaline Trio around the world. With co-founder, and one of the main songwriters for the band, Matt Skiba being hand-picked to join the pop punk titans that is a Blink-182 as full-time in the summer of 2015, after Tom Delonge’s hiatus from the band became permanent.
It has now been a staggering five years since Alkaline Trio released their critically acclaimed eighth full length album My Shame Is True. The band have since toured the release extensively, before going on a prolonged break whilst Skiba fulfilled his Blink-182 commitments. However, as of now the band are fully functioning again. They are currently touring North America and have also penned and recorded their long awaited ninth album Is This Thing Cursed?
The album opens with the title track and quickly settles into the familiar sound that the band have painstakingly crafted throughout their over two decade long history. Andriano takes on the lead vocal role on this one and bares his soul as poetically as ever with his low, crooning voice hovering over the melancholic piano introduction, before the band kick back into their classic pop punk style. The guitar playing from Skiba is high paced and clinical and the wandering fret hand of Andriano is as complex as ever, whilst still managing to link up perfectly with the intricate percussion of Derek Grant.
The second track Blackbird is classic Skiba. This song is a real throwback to some of his Good Mourning era songs, such as This Could Be Love and We’ve Had Enough, with its high intensity delivery and undeniable melody. The chorus is absolute gold and shows just how good this band are at creating wonderfully catchy hooks that are bathed in gloomy, anguished themes and haunting subject matter. Perhaps the most exciting thing about the opening two tracks is the level of energy involved. The band sound as hungry as they did in their classic Maybe I’ll Catch Fire or From Here To Infirmary era.
Demon And Division continues in the same vein with the chorus promising to be a real ear worm after a number of listens, sounding somewhat similar to something that Green Day would have put out on their earlier albums. It seems that the time that Skiba has spent with Blink-182 has helped him get his mojo back when it comes to writing massive melodic hooks.
As the album continues we find Little Help which is just pure fun. The upbeat vocal lines and jovial tone will make for a great live song that will break up the set-list beautifully, and proves that the boys are happy to revisit their old school pop punk roots whenever the occasion calls – a stark contradiction to the following songs I Can’t Believe and Sweet Vampires, both of which are a lot more sombre in their subject matter, dealing with heartbreak albeit in the old school Trio way with singalong choruses and tongue-in-cheek lyrics.
Goodbye Fire Island sounds like it has been pulled straight from the cutting room floor from the From Here To Infirmary sessions. The lyrics hark back to the early years of the band with Skiba using all of the tricks of the English language to his advantage, just like he always has. The backing vocals from the other two members are as strong as ever and help to add the extra layers of melody that give this song its catchy feel.
The song Stay burns at a much slower rate. Andriano has penned a wonderfully heartfelt song here in the same way that he did with the likes of Fine from This Addiction and Sorry About That from the band’s flawless debut full-length Goddamnit. The change in pace and delivery of this song comes at the perfect time to give the audience a chance to catch their breath, before heading into the back end of the album which dials back up the tempo and hits you with the one-two-three combo of Heart Attacks, Worn So Thin and Throw Me To The Lions, before finishing with the Blue In The Face reminiscent acoustic ballad Krystalline to close with yet another wonderful hit of nostalgia.
Alkaline Trio are well and truly back. The guys are firing on all cylinders on Is This Thing Cursed? and the momentum really hasn’t dropped since My Shame Is True, which is miraculous when you bear in mind that it has been five long years since that album dropped. The wonderful thing about this release is how the trio have managed to reconnect with the dark themes that have ironically brought their fans so much joy in the past. Alkaline Trio are, and always have been, wordsmiths and their penchant for writing haunting, dry-witted lyrics and dressing them up in upbeat pop punk melody is often imitated, but never equalled.
Standout Tracks: Is This Thing Cursed?, Little Help, Krystalline
For Fans Of: Hot Water Music. Bayside, Blink 182
Written by: Richard Webb