it was in his name that artillery lit the sky on fire
The greatest contention surrounding Against Me!’s New Wave seems to be the issue of whether Butch Vig did to the album what he did to Nevermind a decade and a half ago: preserve a band’s “natural” roughness despite all the fancy studio editing. Let’s not kid ourselves here: Nevermind’s mainstream success was probably largely due to the fact that it didn’t have Bleach’s coarseness. What New Wave lacks in edginess, however, is honestly what I can do without: the screaming, however ironically melodic, that is so prevalent in Reinventing Axl Rose, As the Eternal Cowboy and Vivada Vis (and to a lesser extent Searching for a Former Clarity).
I know that probably means I don’t have DIY street cred anymore, and maybe I’m just annoyed with Pitchfork, but it’s sometimes a good thing when a really great punk band cuts out all the distortion so that even people who wouldn’t otherwise listen to them can appreciate their ability to write good music. New Wave is to the albums before it what the Distillers’ Coral Fang is to the S/T album and Sing Sing Death House in that it shows that loud doesn’t have to be raunchy or discordant. All of the awesome southern rock influence, the political themes, and Tom Gabel’s twangy voice are still there, just showcased a little bit more than usual.
One unfortunate side effect of a band like this "going mainstream," so to speak, is that a bunch of people who don't know what they're talking about review it without anything to compare it to. The harshest (and sometimes the most well thought out) reviews I've read have been from long-time fans who say that New Wave is nothing like Eternal Cowboy or Axl Rose. The worst reviews I've read are of the SPIN and MTV variety, declaring New Wave to be the "best ___ album ever" (with a million caveats). No one seems to pay attention to the content of the album at all.
Big Gripe #1: The songs are repetitive. There are two songs that may be considered mildly repetitive, but the repetition in each is entirely deliberate. In fact, the form Against Me! employs is quite genius. "New Wave" and "White People for Peace" repeat because that is part of their presentation. "New Wave" mimics the repetition of the media's slogans on the airwaves. "White People for Peace" is a protest song. It repeats a protest chant over and over. This is fairly obvious to me anyway.
Big Gripe #2: The band has sold out. See my post entitled Dear Pitchfork, STFU.
Big Gripe #3: The band abandoned their folk punk roots. What does that even mean? Every album has been different. Even folk punk icons like This Bike is a Pipebomb have experimented and changed their sound over a range of records. Not everyone wants to sound like a garage band forever.
In other news, some old favorites on Daniel Handler/Lemony Snicket’s playlist for this month make me wish I wasn’t so musically homogenous these days.