Alkaline Trio – Is This Thing Cursed?
Released: August 31st, 2018
Matt Skiba // Guitar & Vocals
Dan Andriano // Bass & Vocals
Derek Grant // Drums & Backup Vocals
Blink 182’s latest efforts have found them at a level of mainstream acceptance forged from glitzy production levels and song approachability without precedent. Alkaline Trio guitarist Matt Skiba’s inclusion in to the trio since Tom DeLonge took alien hunting to seriously unprecedented (and award winning) levels will doubtlessly work wonders toward bolstering the historically underrated band’s latest album to previously unattainable album sales and streams. Which is great for these hard working, dynamic, career-rockstar-workhorse dudes and their tireless efforts to bring melancholic, bleak, darkly comic, but ultimately blistering and catchy pop-punk tunes to a wider audience. The assurance of increased popularity due to Skiba’s extra-curricular activities aside, does the Trio’s 9th studio album more than deliver to fans of old and potential legions of new with grim, rollicking bursts of misery, redemption, pain, and the potential to have a big fun mosh all at once? Fuck yes, it does. Here’s a track-by-track rundown;
The eponymous album opener finds Dan Andriano – AT’s eternally raspier vocal half – ruminating sorrowfully on an unspecified but eternal thing within his life that brings nothing but bad luck. It’s a burbling and evenly-paced intro that builds swiftly to the ITTC’s belting first single ‘Blackbird’. This is a quintessential Alkaline Trio tune. Feverishly paced, catchy-and-a-half, and rife with metaphors surrounding paranoia-inducing air force technology representing heart break. ‘Blackbird’ will have you hitting repeat with aplomb, and is easily one of the best songs this reviewer has heard in 2018.
The jauntier, acoustically backed ‘Demon and Division’ follows, channeling much of what can be heard on Skiba’s two Matt Skiba and The Sekrets albums (in a good way). A little more stripped back, a little more acoustic guitar, and a little bit great. ‘Little Help’ is Andriano freely querying the world as to whether or not there is anywhere nearby he may go and get all fucked up after a long week at work. Preach, brother. It all comes out as something like a punk-rock folk tune, akin to the structure and lyrical content of an old Flogging Molly effort. If you don’t know who Flogging Molly are, then there’s a gaping maw in your musical catalogue that needs filling ASAP.
‘I Can’t Believe‘ and ‘Sweet Vampires‘ are both about glum heartbreak, but contrast greatly in sound. The former is balladic and irresolute, while the latter leaps out catchy-as-shit and a pinch more optimistic. Sure, there’s a lot of talk about bleeding from the eyes, but that’s par for the course with this unapologetically pitch-black trio (Geddit? Alkali are corrosive… der).
Speaking of which, Alkali substances turn litmus dye blue (it’s a science thing), so perhaps that played a part in naming track seven ‘Pale Blue Ribbon’. A tenuous segway? Certainly, and an incorrect one judging by the song’s lyrical content about backing someone up as they run life’s difficult race. It’s a swift like kick of a song at exactly two minutes, achieving all it needed to and not overstaying its welcome.
‘Goodbye Fire Island’ sounds ripped straight from the track list of 2003’s beloved Good Mourning, an album that arrived smack bang in the centre of Alkaline Trio’s first renaissance. ITTC? and 2013’s My Shame Is True are certainly the band’s second one, though the same can’t be said for the umbrella genre under which the band still resides. Regardless, it’s a great song that will sound immediately familiar, which is what bands must indeed sometimes do for their long serving fans wanting more of what they’ve come to enjoy (A relative aside; can someone please link this knowledge to Alex “It sounds like a 70’s elevator when I crawl up my own ass” Turner ASAP, please?)
‘Stay’ follows is self-referential to some of Andriano’s old lyrics, maintaining a ‘Settle For Satin’ pace. It certainly slows the pace a bit, but certainly sounds like a far more personal effort from Dan, as opposed to the over-dramatic themes of death for which The Trio are so well known. ‘Heart Attacks’ and ‘Worn So Thin’ are compact two-and-a-half minute punchers detailing overdose and a man at the end of his tether. Though the two narrative are separate and sung by alternate singers, you can’t help but draw a comparison between the two. Had they been positioned the other way around on the track list, it would almost pair as a story of a human car accident finally pulling the trigger on leaving this world (Don’t do this in real life. It’s only a song. Call Lifeline on 13 11 14 if you need to talk to someone about how life sucks, because sometimes it does and that’s why bands like Alkaline Trio are sympathetically vital).
Penultimate album closer ‘Throw Me To The Lions’ is a flourished, explosive song where Derek Grant’s truly, deeply exceptional drumming is given space to roar. He is highly regarded among his peers for very good reason, and a go-to for when other punk bands’ drummers can’t do a show. In short, he’s the fucking man. Drummers across the world would do well to study his capacity for laying spectacular fills in a punk songs where other bands never though there was room. Derek, never change.
The album ends with a historically iconic acoustic ballad from Skiba in the form of ‘Krystalline’, that in some way deals with a sad experiences toward the end of a dying relationship. He’s done it multiple times with the Trio, and a string of solo projects over the last few decades. They’re always welcome, and this is no exception. Listen to it when you’re in the glummest bits of a particularly break up and need to know that even mega-cool rockstars feel that stinging heart break like the rest of us, you big depressed creature, you.
Anyway, fans of old will sink their teeth right the fuck in to Is This Thing Cursed? While new listeners wandering in from Blink 182’s recent radio domination will certainly find plenty to unpack in Matt, Dan, and Derek’s contrastingly dark, grungier, wonderfully bleak latest effort.
Alkaline Trio – Is This Thing Cursed? tracklisting
1. Is This Thing Cursed?
3. Demon and Division
4. Little Help?
5. I Can’t Believe
6. Sweet Vampires
7. Pale Blue Ribbon
8. Goodbye Fire Island
10. Heart Attacks
11. Worn So Thin
12. Throw Me To The Lions