For their last album, 2007’s New Wave, Against Me! signed with Sire and hired Butch Vig to produce — and heard the usual screamed chorus of “sellouts!” from fans who wanted them to remain pure, punk, and indie forever. If the experience bothered the band, you wouldn’t know it from listening to their follow-up; if anything, White Crosses is even more arena-ready than New Wave, with piles of stacked vocals and shiny guitars galore. Cross the Hold Steady with Superstar Car Wash-era Goo Goo Dolls, and you’ve got an idea of what’s going on here.
There’s more going on here, though. That comparison at the end of the last paragraph kind of skirts the edges of White Crosses‘ sonic template, but it doesn’t really strike at the heart of vocalist/guitarist/songwriter Tom Gabel’s lyrical outlook, which looks back on a decade in the punk trenches with all the open-throated weariness a 29-year-old can muster. On “I Was a Teenage Anarchist,” Gabel asks “Do you remember when you were young and you wanted to set the world on fire?” before spitting, “The scene got too rigid / It was a mob mentality / They set their sights on me.” He picks up the theme from a different angle three tracks later, with “We’re Breaking Up,” sighing, “We used to like all the same bands / We used to have all the same friends / What do we have left in common? / Just shared memories of good times long since past.” Even the anger of the title track, which takes its name from crosses on a church lawn representing abortions (“I wanted to smash them all”) is couched in fatigue, and the shoutalong “Rapid Decompression,” which sounds like the beginning of a bar fight, is a call to “Before you cast your stones / Take a look at yourself.”
Ignore the lyrics, though, and White Crosses offers plenty of loud, perfectly polished rock & roll, great for fist-pumping and driving fast with the windows down. For longtime fans who held their noses at New Wave, it might feel like another betrayal, and I won’t argue that point; in terms of arrangements and production, Crosses is tight and sanded down, lacking the righteous fury of the band’s earlier work. But Against Me! doesn’t just belong to that crowd anymore, and for fans of visceral blue-collar rock who are looking for some company between beers (or Hold Steady and Springsteen releases), this will sound just right.
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