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Posted on June 15th, 2010 (1:23 pm) by Christopher Borden

How did we arrive here? When Against Me!, undoubtedly the most controversial punk rock band in the world right now (and for all of the wrong reasons), burst onto the scene with an EP of acoustic anthems and the phenomenal full-length album Reinventing Axl Rose, they were heralded as a dynamic and impressive force ready to conquer the world via underground networks. Recorded in the immediate aftermath of the September 11th, 2001 attacks, and released shortly thereafter, Reinventing Axl Rose came very close to singlehandedly making punk rock important again. For a lot of us, that is where we wish the story might have ended. While most critics seem more than happy to pinpoint the moment of fan contention arriving with their move to Sire Records in 2005, the backlash against Against Me! actually occurred almost immediately, reaching a fever pitch when their 2005 single “Don’t Lose Touch” aired on MTV. Along with the mainstream accolades came screams and shouts of “Sell outs!” (surely a meaningless phrase now) and much, much worse accusations.

Not from me, though, and while I cannot lay claim to having been there from the beginning (I hopped on the bandwagon somewhere between the releases of As The Eternal Cowboy and the brilliant Searching For A Former Clarity), I do feel as though I have sort of grown up alongside Against Me! Kind of a self-important stance, I know, but while Against Me! may not be one of my favorite bands, nor is Tom Gabel one of my favorite frontmen, I do share a certain sense of empathy with them as we have both suffered growing pains at roughly the same time. And, while I never felt betrayed by the group, my feelings towards New Wave can be summed up by the very music video for the album’s title song. In a tastefully done tribute to The Replacements’ “Bastards Of Young” video, an unseen listener snatches a copy of the record off of a still-rotating turntable and swiftly breaks it in a million pieces, scattering shards of vinyl in every direction.

Okay, New Wave was not a total abomination. It is, afterall, home to “Thrash Unreal” and “Borne On The FM Waves Of The Heart.” But throughout its proceedings it often felt as though the band’s songs and Butch Vig’s production were at odds with each other, and with the group trying to appeal to both old and new fans the album came off as unfocused and lazy rather than exhilarating. Maybe that immense disappointment explains my sense of affection for White Crosses. Perhaps White Crosses really is not as good as I think it is, maybe the taste New Wave left in my mouth was just so bitter that I am willing to blindly open my arms to White Crosses and praise it simply because it is better. However I do not believe that to be the case, and I am almost positive that there is something more to White Crosses than just a marked improvement over its predecessor.

The title track opens the record in appropriate fashion with lines like “Pop hits from the nineties/Echo out of tourist filled bars/I'm met with arms crossed under dirty looks/I am treated like a common thief” serving to reference both the state of the Union and the state of Against Me! But the big draw is, without a doubt, the self-conscious mind dump of “I Was A Teenage Anarchist.” Gabel’s attempt to reconcile who he was when he first started Against Me! with who he is now, “I Was A Teenage Anarchist” kicks White Crosses into high gear. The verse “I was a teenage anarchist/But then the scene got too rigid/It was mob mentality/They set their rifle sights on me/Narrow visions of autonomy/You want me to surrender my identity/I was a teenage anarchist/The revolution was a lie,” and its rousing, fist-pumping chorus speak for themselves.

The winning streak continues into “Because Of The Shame,” which will be a hit if there is any justice in this world, detailing the death of a once close friend of Gabel’s, his trying to come to terms with what they meant to each other, and the resulting numbness. Knowingly borrowing both the rhythm and “Whoah-ohs” from Bruce Springsteen’s “No Surrender,” a celebration of youth, life, and the importance of pop music, “Because Of The Shame” is a massive success in its reappropriation of the classic Springsteen cut. And it’s a damn good song to boot. Unfortunately, White Crosses takes a steep dive in quality for its middle section, with the nondescript “Suffocation” and “High Pressure Low.” Sandwiched between those two songs is “We’re Breaking Up,” the realization of all the worst things we could have possibly expected from Against Me! Of course this will end up being the big hit, if only because it is so utterly generic. But even then some of the lyrics are well written. Sample: “You can't get what you want from me/And I can't get what I need from you.”

“We’re Breaking Up” is easily outstripped by “Ache With Me,” the record’s other big, stirring ballad. Like The Replacement’s “Achin’ To Be,” “Ache With Me” is a pretty song about being lost in a cultureless society and wanting to be something a little bit bigger than yourself, and to ditch that unwavering sense of defeat. Where “We’re Breaking Up” is often cloying and irritating, “Ache With Me” is just beautiful and totally irresistible. White Crosses ends on a high note with “Bamboo Bones,” whose soaring guitar line during the chorus is very captivating. If I have one big, general criticism about the album, it is the underutilization of new drummer George Rebelo. Any fan of Hot Water Music will attest that this guy is a machine, and it is a shame that his presence on White Crosses can only be noted as competent.

It should go without saying that you cannot go into this record expecting anything like Against Me!’s earliest output. And, while White Crosses is consistently enjoyable and even moving, there is nothing here to match the brilliance of Searching For A Former Clarity’s trifecta, “Unprotected Sex With Multiple Partners,” “From Her Lips To God’s Ears (The Energizer),” and “Violence.” Earlier I said that White Crosses was perhaps more than just a marked improvement over New Wave. I cannot say with any confidence what that “something more” is, but I am sure that it is there. If nothing else, White Crosses may be Against Me!’s first album since their debut that is worth taking in on its own terms.

Track List:
1. White Crosses
2. I Was A Teenage Anarchist
3. Because Of The Shame
4. Suffocation
5. We’re Breaking Up
6. High Pressure Low
7. Ache With Me
8. Spanish Moss
9. Rapid Decompression
10. Bamboo Bones

Purchase at: Amazon | eMusic

Our Rating

77 / 100
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