July 10, 2008 - Sire
Really, we all should've seen it coming. With their spot-on cover of the Replacements anthem "Bastards Of Young" on 2006's We'll Inherit The Earth tribute compilation, Florida quartet Against Me! started the shift from scene-leading punk band to culture-creating rock band. With New Wave, their major label debut for the recently revived Sire imprint on Warner Bros., frontman Tom Gabel completes the transformation. If there's any justice in the world, New Wave will usher in an entire legion of teenagers wondering if there's anything out there besides Hinder and Buckcherry (see also: Green Day's Dookie, Blink-182's Enema Of The State). Of course, New Wave is far different from those albums both in musical style and lyrical content.
First off, Against Me!—Gabel, guitarist James Bowman, bassist Andrew Seward and drummer Warren Oakes—have focused themselves musically, providing a much tighter, rock-influenced record than the rest of their catalog (kudos to producer Butch Vig for running a tight ship). Replacements influences abound (the title track, "Thrash Unreal"), with huge, anthemic, straight-ahead choruses simple enough to sing along to on the first listen. First single "White People For Peace" has a bit of a Jimmy Eat World circa Bleed American edge—crisp, tense and driving, with no chance to catch your breath. But that's not where the JEW comparisons end: "Borne On The FM Waves Of The Heart," featuring Tegan Quin of Tegan And Sara (in a particularly Cyndi Lauper-esque appearance), easily could have been penned by Jim Adkins, with lover's lament lyrics and delicately arpeggiated guitar work in the chorus.
Lyrically, most everything else on New Wave falls into the outwardly socio-political category, from how drug use pulls apart a family ("Thrash Unreal") to the depressing realization that the world is becoming Americanized ("Wherever we go, Coca-Cola's already been" from "Americans Abroad") to, like past albums, the problems inherent in the music industry (the title track, "Up The Cuts" and "Stop"). Sure, Gabel's walking a bit of a well-tred path with that last topic, but as long as the songs themselves are compelling, it's hard to complain.
Not every song is that compelling, however: "Piss And Vinegar," while appropriately aggressive, feels like the band going through the motions, and "Animal" is a pure clunker whose only purpose seems to be a three-and-a-half minute waiting room before the absolutely stellar closing track, "Ocean." When you only have 10 songs on your album, even one dud is bad news; if there are two, you better pray there are some soon-to-be-classics on the disc, as well. Luckily, "Ocean" with its samba groove, more than fills that void, perhaps making it the most compelling song the band's written to date. New Wave has the potential to be one of those albums a whole generation of punks turn to years later as their introduction to the underground. Sure, it's not 100 percent perfect, but wouldn't you rather have your little sibling listen to this than "Crazy Bitch"?
The Replacements' Tim
Jimmy Eat World's Bleed American
Green Day's Warning