After a 5-year break and a few notable side projects (one by the name of blink-182), punk veterans Alkaline Trio return with their 9th studio album Is This Thing Cursed? Like any other band in the genre with 20 years under their belt, questions brew with each release as to whether they can successfully retain the same vitality that has kept them relevant for so long.
With these in mind, the twinkling keys of the album’s eponymous opening track, coupled with vocalist/bassist Dan Andriano’s heart-on-sleeve crooning, serve to silence any naysayers with an undeniable urgency. The album swiftly transitions into lead single, ‘Blackbird.’ Band leader Matt Skiba’s winding tale of love and espionage let us know that his knack for penning witty punk singalongs shows no sign of rust.
Lyrically, the album picks up where the Chicago trio left off. Their penchant for the morbid creeps its way in on goth-tinged pop tune, ‘Sweet Vampires,’ while their inner romantics are on full display on ‘Stay,’ and ‘Krystalline,’ the latter of which is taken to new heights by Skiba’s impassioned vocal performance. Heartfelt quotables destined to be inked into the skin of the group’s legion of diehard fans are littered throughout the album. My personal favourite being, “They said that they did all they could // That boy’s been dead since childhood,” from album highlight, ‘Heart Attacks.’ Throughout the record, the group’s passion and macabre wit is harnessed with great effect, leaving plenty of bloodstained trails to follow and uncover more lyrical gems.
The group serves up their usual brand of fast-paced rock, seasoned with a spoonful of evil, but with just enough variation to keep the album interesting throughout. However, it is this familiarity that is the true double-edged sword of the project. The band has boiled this sound down to such a perfect science that cuts such as ‘Pale Blue Ribbon,’ and ‘Worn So Thin,’ feel a tad like Alkaline Trio by the numbers, but without some of their past spark. Still, the band manage to whip up plenty of enjoyable ideas. From the infectious melodies of ‘I Can’t Believe,’ to the jagged guitars and intricate bass work of the aforementioned, ‘Blackbird,’ the band delivers one fiery punk song after another.
On their 9th album, Alkaline Trio don’t push the boat out too far. However, with said boat they still manage to capture that fervour and originality that has kept them afloat for so long, while other bands in the same vein have faded into obscurity. The group are dark and coded when they need to be, yet catchy and fun when necessary, leading to an album of great replay value. A fine addition to an already impressive catalogue.
Is This Thing Cursed? By Alkaline Trio is out now.By Sam Oakley