Posted by Yasmin
Words by Bec Simpson
Nine albums in and we’ve reached what could essentially be a make or break point for Alkaline Trio with the release of ‘Is This Thing Cursed?’. The band have been a constant presence in the pop-punk/emo/alt-rock/whatever-you-wanna-label-them scene for the past two decades and a bit, probably longer than some of their newer fans have been alive, but recently a couple of factors have placed question marks over their future. Although Matt Skiba’s been in other bands at the same time as Alk3 before, never one as big and as busy as Blink-182. He’s already had to swap schedules around and play balancing act between the two bands which delayed the production of the album. Then, earlier this year, a slower than expected recovery from Skiba’s recent throat surgery led to the band pulling out from a festival appearance. Can Skiba balance the gruelling schedules of two professional touring and recording bands, while still keeping himself fit and healthy enough to be at his best for both? Only time will be the judge, and although fans might have to wait a little longer for content (it’s been five years since the last one), if ‘Is This Thing Cursed?’ is anything to go by, it will be worth the wait.
Opener and title track ‘Is This Thing Cursed?’ starts off like some kind of dramatic musical theatre number, then kicks into an upbeat pop-rock bounce, whereas stuff like ‘Demon And Division’ and ‘Worn So Thin’ sound like they could be unheard Jawbreaker cuts. They were always one of Alk’s FFOs so it’s nice to hear them get back to their roots a bit. The album itself easily stands up amongst some the rest of of Alkaline Trio’s back catalogue. It’s nostalgic without feeling tired; sarcastic without feeling cheesy. ‘Blackbird’ perfectly combines minor notes and melodies with driving guitars and punk structure and rhythm. Like a cross between Against Me! and The Smiths, the band retain their ability at being able to address darkness through a jolly tune (see ‘Little Help?’ for more of that vibe).
The lyrics too, are frequently imaginative and descriptive, transporting the listener to another time or place. ‘Heart Attacks’ for example, is virtually a Christmas song, albeit a very dark one – “a painting on my ceiling and your footprints in the snow, they found you Christmas morning beneath the tree in the front yard”. Then we have final track ‘Krystalline’, an acoustic driven ballad with some evocative lyrics the likes of “you came from Santa Monica with teardrops in your eyes, we passed out in the shadows of a lonely Thursday night”. Emo poetry at its best.
The album ends on a high, with the beautiful former mentioned ‘Krystalline’ and penultimate track ‘Throw Me To The Lions’, which sounds like a single and an immediate live winner with its dramatic, memorable chorus and jumping up and down pit-ready tempo.
Not every song’s a winner. There’s a couple in the middle that pass you by without making much of an impact, but there’s enough good content on here to keep the album going. While they might not be pushing the boat out, experimenting or venturing into unknown territory with ‘Is This Thing Cursed?’, it’s very much an Alkaline Trio record and that’s fine. That’s what the people want. Considering it’s been a long wait, it’s a solid return, and one which hints that Alk3 aren’t done just quite yet.