Alkaline Trio deliver an exceptionally tight album and EP that represent some of their best songwriting since Good Mourning.
Released Apr. 2nd on Epitaph Records / Heart & Skull
As diehard Trio fans, Xtine and I know well: Matt Skiba writes much better songs when he’s fucked-up and brokenhearted. I knew at first listen that his songs on My Shame Is True are better than those on This Addiction (Alkaline Trio’s last proper studio album, released in 2010), I just didn’t know why. Turns out it’s because of a breakup between him and model Rosie O’Laskey, his girlfriend of the past few years, that occurred just before the writing process for My Shame Is True:
This record was catharsis. I wrote it in a way that I’ve always tried to stick to, the way we used to write when no one was listening or we didn’t think anyone would hear it. I just wrote this one more as like a love letter to my ex-girlfriend or an apology note set to music … We’re still very close and she’s even who you see on the cover of the record. Like any good breakup there’s never a clean break. You go back and forth and try and fix it and you’re still hooking up or whatever. So this record represents that sort of confusion and pain and at times relief and happiness that sometimes blows up in your face.
As usual, an emotional rollercoaster proves a boon to Skiba’s songwriting. He delivered some of his best stuff in recent memory on last year’s album by his side project, Matt Skiba and the Sekrets, but his contributions to My Shame Is True are even stronger. In fact, this is the Trio’s most consistently tight album since 2003’s Good Mourning. Opener “She Lied to the FBI” blasts right out of the gate; it’s punchy, it’s infectious, it’s big on “whoa-oh”s…it’s all of the band’s strengths shoved right up front.
Then comes lead single “I Wanna Be a Warhol” which as Xtine noted gets catchier with each listen. It’s got guest vocals from Brendan Kelly of The Lawrence Arms (who also put out an excellent solo album last year), an old friend of the band from when they were youngsters in the Chicago scene. It’s also got a bit of a gothic vibe with its heavy synthesizers, an instrument I’ve chided the Trio for using before but works to the right effect here. Its lyrical metaphor only thinly masks some stalker-status romantic/sexual obsession, a point driven further home by its Milla Jovovich-starring video.
On This Addiction Alkaline Trio made a conscious effort to get back to their roots: In the previous 7 years they’d bounced around various labels including a brief stab at the majors, worked with big-name producers like Jerry Finn and Josh Abraham, and steadily laid a mainstream rock sheen over what once had been a sloppy-but-catchy punk sound. For This Addiction they stripped back the songwriting, went back to their hometown of Chicago to work with Matt Allison (who’d produced their first 3 albums), and got back to an independent label by signing with Epitaph. It was a noble effort, but couldn’t hope to fully recapture the scrappy spirit of their younger days. My Shame Is True feels much more natural, balancing the heart-on-sleeve emotions of their early work with the polished songwriting and slick production of their later efforts. They’re right at home on Epitaph, and for this album they worked with punk producer extraordinaire Bill Stevenson at the Blasting Room, a guy who knows how to bring out the best qualities in veteran bands of this ilk (cf. Rise Against, NOFX, Hot Water Music). His fingerprints are all over the huge, hook-laden tracks like “Kiss You to Death” and “Midnight Blue”.
Dan Andriano’s lead tracks have numbered fewer on the more recent Trio albums, but he’s the more reliable songwriter in terms of being consistently enjoyable. This is another point on which Xtine and I agree: Because Matt tends to dominate the tracklist, he comes off more hit-and-miss; Dan gets less face time, but he always makes it count. He’s got 4 leads on My Shame Is True, and they’re all good ones. “I’m Only Here to Disappoint” is big on hooks. “I, Pessimist” is a fierce number that features Andriano duetting with another of the band’s old Chicago chums, Rise Against’s Tim McIlrath. “Only Love” and “Young Lovers” are more akin to his This Addiction contributions, midtempo numbers built around his soaring vocals. Drummer Derek Grant also shines on this release, particularly on “I Wanna Be a Warhol” and “”Kiss You to Death”.
Skiba really enjoys his wordplay, which sometimes comes off clever (From Here to Infirmary, Good Mourning), sometimes not [“The American Scream”,”Donner Party (All Night)”]. On My Shame Is True it largely works (well, the album title is a bit of a rolleyes), particularly on closing number “Until Death Do Us Part”. It’s pretty impressive that this track was written in the middle of the recording sessions. “Tell me everything will be okay” he begs, “Tell me that your’e still in love with me / Please tell me how to get back into your heart”. With songs like this, Matt, that’s how.
Released in conjunction with the album, the Broken Wing EP provides 4 additional tracks that give Andriano the spotlight. Only one song on this is Skiba’s, the rollicking “Pocket Knife” which features more of his macabre wordplay (“Baby you’ve got some nerve / Cold revenge has been served / And I’m freezing alone / For reasons unknown”). The other 3 songs belong to Dan: “Balanced on a Shelf” is built around an echoing goth-punk lead guitar line and deprecating lyrics: “You’re screaming ‘where did you go wrong? / Where did you go wrong?’ / Well, first of all and worst of all / You looked inside yourself, didn’t care much for what you saw”. “Broken Wing” is a big pop-punk number that gives him more room to play with lyrical analogies. “Sun Burns” explores Andriano’s typical subject matter of love and fixing a relationship on the rocks: “Developed a knack for this dull conversation / I’d sharpen my wit but what’s the motivation? / Don’t need to be clever to tell you that I’m just / A total mess and that I must / Throw that old self away”. It’s always nice to hear more from Danny, and since this EP is appended to most digital editions of the album as bonus tracks it gives him a larger role in the proceedings without his songs being relegated to b-side status.
Together, My Shame Is True and Broken Wing are Alkaline Trio’s most consistent set of good songs in a decade, and are well worth checking out even for those who may have been turned off by their stab at the mainstream on Agony & Irony or their attempt at recapturing their youth on This Addiction. This really is the Trio at their best.