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ALKALINE TRIO – ‘Is This Thing Cursed?’ Album Review

ALKALINE TRIO – Is This Thing Cursed?

Alkaline TrioWe have been sent this superb review of Alkaline Trio’s new album Is This Thing Cursed? Many thanks to Ryan Wyness from Aberdeen, Scotland for sending it to us and for his detailed description.

 

Five years. Five years is a long time to wait for new Alkaline Trio material, especially when you’ve loved them more than you’ve loved a lot of people in your life for over thirteen years!
Alkaline Trio’s brand spankin’ new record Is This Thing Cursed? was released on Friday 31st August 2018 and I think I learned every lyric to every song by the end of that day. I played the poop out of that album that day!
My biggest fear was that Matt would take the sound and production he had on blink-182’s most recent effort California and use it on the new Trio record. I love Goldfinger and I love blink-182 but I feel like the production by John Feldmann and blink on California was not great for those songs. I (and I’m sure other Trio fanatics felt the same) was worried sick about the new Trio album sounding like that.
My fears were quickly set aside with the release of the first three singles. Cameron Webb and Alkaline Trio have done a fantastic job on Is This Thing Cursed? The songs are not over produced, they sound like a prime Alkaline Trio punk rock record.
The songs themselves are catchy as hell and there’s an excellent balance of Matt and Dan songs and vocals on there, too. Their 2010 album This Addiction was a very Matt-heavy album and, honestly, the three Dan songs on there were by far the best songs on that record. They released some bonus tracks for that album that were Dan songs and they were also completely outstanding. It’s nice to have a fair balance of Matt and Dan on the new album.
As for Derek Grant, I don’t think anyone has ever had a bad word to say about him. He’s a lovely, genuine human being and he’s one of the greatest drummers around. It’s no surprise that his efforts on this album are flawless. All I really have to say about Derek is that he’s easily the nicest person I’ve ever met from any band I listen to and I really, really hope he’s doing well.
I never tend to read reviews because you shouldn’t let someone tell you what or how to feel about art. However, as a long-time fan of Alkaline Trio, I wanted to share my thoughts on their latest effort and explain why I love it so much. You don’t have to agree, you don’t even have to read this fucking thing, just enjoy the music!

1. IS THIS THING CURSED?
When it comes to opening albums, with songs like ‘Cringe,’ ‘This Could Be Love’ and ‘Time To Waste’ to name a few, Alkaline Trio are masters. They set the tone and give the listener an idea of the atmosphere of the rest of the record from the opening track.
‘Is This Thing Cursed?’ takes Dan’s album-opening virginity. Never before has a Trio record opened with a Dan song or Dan’s voice. Singing over a lullaby introduction, Mr. Andriano shares his low feelings with us from the get go. His usual genius, sombre lyrics are later halted by an occurence that is not found enough in the music of Alkaline Trio; sharing vocal duties. Matt Skiba pops his head in for a couple of lines which include macabre words such as “haunted” and “dismemberment.” Songs such as ‘This Is Getting Over You,’ ‘Back To Hell’ and ‘Mercy Me’ may come to mind when we think of vocal duties being shared within Alkaline Trio and it’s a wonderful accessory they should use more often.
Derek Grant is one of the greatest drummers in punk, no doubt about it. Watching Derek play is like watching those robot drummers in the Tunnel Of Love or something at an amusement park. Not at all because he’s robotic, but because he’s a part of the drumkit when he sits down on that stool. In the opening track, Derek uses the whole kit and never goes over the top. From seeing Derek perform live numerous times (everyone should), I can envisage Derek when I listen to ‘Is This Thing Cursed?’ throwing his sticks at every drum and cymbal without even looking at them, just relaxing and having a great time doing it.
Between Dan pouring his heart out about his depression and Matt singing like he’s a devil on one’s shoulder, ‘Is This Thing Cursed?’ sets the tone for this record as being dark and deliciously evil. That’s exactly what we get.
FAVOURITE LYRIC:
“My haunted head aches so much worse than those that can’t remember how dismemberment works.”

  1. BLACKBIRD
    The first song released for this record. The first new original song released by Alkaline Trio in five years. ‘Blackbird’ continues with and confirms the dark and deliciously evil theme.
    Part of me feels like it would have been great if they’d released a song like ‘Demon and Division’ first to let the listeners know that they’re about to get a whole bunch of Matt and Dan songs instead of the arguably usual Matt-dominated Trio record. However, ‘Blackbird’ is a great, super catchy song and I had it on repeat from 4 a.m until I went to bed at night the day it was released.
    Of everything that has been said about the latest Trio record, a comment I often read is that it is a “sequel” to Alkaline Trio’s 2003 album Good Mourning. Is This Thing Cursed? does share the same dark, macabre aura Good Mourning had in 2003. As soon as I heard ‘Blackbird’ and saw the artwork for Is This Thing Cursed? I immediately thought of Good Mourning.
    The lyrics feel like they were written by a character in an old fashioned crime/thriller movie, the music is catchy as hell, Matt’s guitar is so sharp you could cut wood with it, you can almost hear Dan beating up his bass and grinding his teeth as he goes and Derek’s drumming is so powerful it almost seems like he’s trying to break through them at times.
    Great song. Well worth the wait.
    FAVOURITE LYRIC:
    “She sees music in the terror she brings.”3. DEMON AND DIVISION
    Possibly my favourite on the album. They released this song on the same week they released the album and I was watching a horror movie called Rosemary’s Baby at the time. I paused the movie and watched the lyric video for this song and it was so spooky and horror-esque. I loved it!
    Kicking off with Dan Andriano striking some chords on the ol’ bass guitar, Derek Grant chiming in with a few cymbal hits and Matt Skiba singing about having “poison on the brain,” this little diddy feels like a slower Trio song until everyone kicks in with their instruments.
    It’s definitely a sadder song for Skiba lyrically, which I adore. Over the past few years, Skiba has obviously been playing with a little band called blink-182 (I was hoping I could write a review without mentioning it). From an outsider point of view, everything seems to be going great for Matt. Songs like ‘Demon and Division’ are a reminder that no matter how things may seem, no matter how happy people may seem, things aren’t perfect. People may not be as happy as they seem and they may need help. It’s obviously not nice that Matt, Dan and Derek aren’t always happy in life but it’s incredible that they are willing to share their feelings with the world and let people know they are not alone in how they are feeling. ‘Demon and Division’ is just one of many, many Trio songs that nail that.
    In the middle of all of Skiba’s clean, catchy singing and cool, twiddly guitar bits, Dan jumps in for a singing session. Another sharing of vocals duties! We’re lucky on this record!
    FAVOURITE LYRIC:
    “Been dodging bullets and dirty looks all fucking morning.”

    4. LITTLE HELP?
    This song feels like Alkaline Trio joined Chuck Ragan’s Revival Tour as a band and everyone chipped in to write this song.
    It’s fun, it’s catchy and it’s the first full blown Dan song on the record. ‘Little Help?’ shows that Alkaline Trio (as well as many, many punk bands) can use (basically) the same chords in one song as they do in another and make them sound nothing like eachother.
    There’s no slowing down or pausing for any of the Trio in this tune. You can imagine yourself speeding down the road or robbing a liquor store while blasting ‘Little Help?’ and it gets you totally fired up to do those things! Don’t do them, obviously, they’re bad things.
    Lyrically, again, Mr. Andriano lets us know how shitty life has been lately with some pretty sad lines but throws them up over fast, dancy punk music. This one is gonna be a real party if they play it live!
    FAVOURITE LYRIC:
    “I rented me a place and it burned to the ground. I lit a cigarette then I passed the fuck out.”

  1. I CAN’T BELIEVE
    I must admit… When I first put this song on, I thought it was a Matt Skiba & The Sekrets song. One of the good ones, though! It felt like it had been written for Kuts (the Skiba side-project’s latest release) and Matt thought “wait a minute, this song is so great and it is SOAKED in delicious Trio goodness, I’m gonna keep it for the next Trio album.”
    Derek kicks off this song with some low and fast drums then the whole band punches you in the face with their instruments. After some ethereal effects, Matt palm mutes quickly and fiercely as he sings some angry (for Matt) lyrics in a rather calm voice during the verses. When he’s done with that he bursts into what is arguably one of the catchiest choruses on the album.
    There’s a song on Skiba’s 2010 solo release Demos called ‘I Can’t Believe You’ that, to me, is one of Matt angriest songs. Which is funny because it’s not aggressive or in your face at all, it’s more a disappointed angry, which sometimes hurts more for some people. That’s the atmosphere on this song. Whoever Matt is angry at or disappointed with, I’d hate to be them…
    FAVOURITE LYRIC:
    “Leave me on the outskirts of this seven-headed whore of a one horse town.”6. SWEET VAMPIRES
    Straight up punk rock from Alkaline Trio on this one. Definitely keeping with the dark and deliciously evil theme, ‘Sweet Vampires’ appears to be a fan favourite that’s extremely catchy.
    Matt once said the song ‘Clavicle’ from Trio’s 1998 debut Goddamnit was about a cannibal eating the love of their life. Lyrically, this song has the same feel to it. All of Matt’s songs on their 2013 album ‘My Shame Is True’ are about a break-up and Matt appeared to be in a very dark place. ‘Sweet Vampires’ feels like a break-up song but Matt, despite still taking it rough, seems to have watched a bunch of David Lynch material and realised things could be far worse.
    In the loud, rockin’ instrumental sections, Derek appears to be beating the living daylights out of his drumkit again then delicately apologising to them in the lighter parts. Incredible work from the drummer yet again. You’ll struggle to find anything negative to say about Derek Grant.
    FAVOURITE LYRIC:
    “It’s me and you when the skies are blue, both bleeding from our eyes.”

    7. PALE BLUE RIBBON
    Another excellent, fast-paced Dan Andriano song. A little feedback at the beginning, Derek slaps his snare drum and off we go!
    Many Trio songs on guitar are power chords and there’s nothing wrong with that, especially in good ol’ punk rock. However, it’s really nice to hear some catchy, twiddly guitar parts over these chords sometimes, and ‘Pale Blue Ribbon’ has just that.
    For a song that appears to be about not rushing around because no one makes it out alive, this one is a fast one and is the shortest on the album.
    So many Trio fans complain that they’ll “never have another Goddamnit” or that they’ll “never be like old Trio.” Bands evolve and I sure as hell don’t want the same album over and over again. This song feels like they’ve taken a chunk of every Alkaline Trio album and mashed it all together. Lovely stuff!
    FAVOURITE LYRIC:
    “There’s no prize for winning this race so what’s your hurry in the first place?”

    8. GOODBYE FIRE ISLAND
    This song has attitude!
    Alkaline Trio are pissed off on this song. When we heard that this song was going to be about Fyre Festival (go read about it, I’m already talking too much here), we knew it’d be a “fuck you” song.
    The way Skiba lightly sings “yeah” in ‘Goodbye Fire Island’  feels like he’s saying “fuck you, you’ll get what you deserve” to the founders of Fyre Festival with just that one little syllable.
    Roughly halfway through the song, as Matt is singing “white meat festival,” Derek Grant goes wild on his drum kit again. At this point in the album, it feels as if Derek has really missed playing and writing with Trio and he’s having the time of his life.
    The word catchy is used a lot when it comes to this album. You’ll find yourself singing bits of every song after listening to them. So, yeah, yet another catchy song!
    FAVOURITE LYRIC:
    “Moving like a locomotive to tear you up and take your wife away.”

  1. STAY
    Much like ‘I Can’t Believe’ felt like a Sekrets song, I felt that ‘Stay’ sounded like a song from the 2015 album Party Adjacent by Dan Andriano In The Emergency Room, Dan’s side-project. Not in a bad way, however, because not only does it also sound like a great, great Trio song, it has some references to previous Trio releases, too.
    A lot of Dan’s material, especially The Emergency Room stuff, is about and/or dedicated to his wife and daughter. Dan obviously adores them and it’s amazing that he’s willing to share these feelings with listeners. Whether ‘Stay’ is for his wife, his daughter or both, it’s a heart-wrenching apology from Dan who is desperate for them to stay with him and let him make it up to them.
    Dan also gives nice little nods to Trio fans with lines like “we can never break up” (referencing their earlier song ‘We Can Never Break Up’), “you would think by now that I’d be fine” (referencing their earlier song ‘Fine’) and “goddamnit, I swear to whatever’s out there” (referencing their debut album Goddamnit). You could argue that a few other words used in the song are also references but these ones feel like they were put there on purpose.
    Another adorable little piece of information is that Dan’s daughter, Sophie-Moon Andriano, also performs backing vocals on this song!
    FAVOURITE LYRIC:
    “Goddamnit, I swear to whatever’s out there that I love you more now than I ever have.”10. HEART ATTACKS
    Another song that feels like it could have slipped perfectly into the Good Mourning track list, ‘Heart Attacks’ takes us back to the dark and deliciously evil theme of the album.
    This song starts off slowly, dragging along in the intro and first verse, feeling like Derek Grant has just risen from the dead and put himself behind a drum kit. In the second verse, speed picks up a little as Derek gets the blood rushing to his arms. By the time we reach the bridge, Derek is wide awake, Matt is teasing his guitar with short, stabby chords and Dan is exploring the whole bass guitar while supplying some backing vocals, too. The final chorus is a celebration of everyone coming to life and enjoying their instruments.
    Lyrically, this one seems to get to Skiba. Someone is going through a tough time and he knows there’s nothing he can do to help. Later in the album, Matt tells the listener he “quit drinking” and in this song he exclaims “I’d kill for a drink,” letting us know, again, life is never perfect, there will always be those times that really get to you and try to crack you.
    FAVOURITE LYRIC:
    “They said that they did all they could. That boy’s been dead since childhood.”

    11. WORN SO THIN
    Years ago, Dan Andriano admitted that he is not the biggest fan of his vocal style when he was younger. The rough, gravelly style he uses in songs such as ‘I Lied My Face Off’ and ‘This Is Getting Over You,’ for example. However, as soon as his vocals kick in on this song, we are instantly reminded of that version of Dan.
    ‘Worn So Thin’ is a straight up punk rock song that kicks ass. Much like ‘Little Help?’ this one is gonna be a great live performance. Unlike ‘Heart Attacks,’ this one starts off full speed ahead and tends to slow down a little towards the end. It gives the feeling that Dan is ready for a tantrum and as he vents he eases off. He’s angry and it shows. Let it out, Dan!
    FAVOURITE LYRIC:
    “I’m sorry, friend. With all these fucking problems I should pay you rent.”

    12. THROW ME TO THE LIONS
    If ‘Worn So Thin’ was Dan letting off steam then ‘Throw Me To The Lions’ is Matt and Derek taking their turn.
    The song begins with Derek imagining his snare drum is the face of his worst enemy and he’s just beating down on it until it’s a pulp of blood, brain and shattered skull. Meanwhile, Matt appears to have found out that his guitar has been sleeping with his girl and he’s showing it who’s boss. Real attitude!
    Lyrically, it appears that Matt is sorrounded by idiots and no one is listening to what he has to say, even when it all makes sense. With a little nod to A Clockwork Orange (“bring me ultra-violence”) and arguably the best lyric on the album (“it’s raining cats and dogs of locusts from that sicko up above”), ‘Throw Me To The Lions’ is another catchy, rage-fuelled song that includes the final performances by Dan Andriano and Derek Grant on bass guitar and drums respectively on Is This Thing Cursed?
    FAVOURITE LYRIC:
    “It’s raining cats and dogs of locusts from that sicko up above.”

  1. KRYSTALLINE
    Alkaline Trio’s 1998 debut studio album Goddamnit ended with the beautiful, painful ‘Sorry About That.’ Their 2003 studio album Good Mourning ended with the dark, cocaine-fuelled ‘Blue In The Face.’ These were both acoustic tracks that were the perfect endings to punk rock records.
    ‘Krystalline’ is the first acoustic ending to a Trio album since Good Mourning. On this track, Matt lets us know that he still has that rough, strained voice he had from Good Mourning and beyond.
    Again, when I first heard this song I thought it was a Sekrets leftover. In fact, it sounded suspiciously similar to their track ‘Angel Of Deaf’ from their 2012 debut Babylon. However, with that rough voice screaming “I want you, Krystalline” after singing about “kissing” and “fucking,” this is definitely a solid finisher for an Alkaline Trio album.
    Matt Skiba has always been excellent with his metaphors. ‘Krystalline’ seems like a simple love song/break-up song at first, but what is it really about? ‘Blue In The Face’ felt like a love song/break-up song and it turns out that was an ode to cocaine! The last song on Is This Thing Cursed? is beautiful, sad and I hope we never find out who or what the lyrics are about. It’s a wonderful mystery…
    FAVOURITE LYRIC:
    “I told you I quit drinking and you laughed ’til you saw stars.”

 

 

 

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