Released Sept. 10th on Interscope Records
The liner notes of Rise Against’s rarities collection indicate that the songs collected here weren’t cut because they weren’t good enough, but rather because they didn’t quite suit the albums they were intended for. That seems an accurate assessment, as each track on Long Forgotten Songs is complete and fully-realized. There are no demos or throwaways here, rather 14 solid originals and a dozen covers culled from various compilations, singles, and soundtracks.
The album leftovers are each strong enough to stand next to the the material on the records they were cut from. “Lanterns”, the sole remnant from 2011’s Endgame, is a driving melodic hardcore number that feels like it came from earlier in their career. Seven numbers from the Appeal to Reason (2008) sessions—”Historia Calamitatum”, “Death Blossoms”, “Elective Amnesia”, “Grammatizator”, “Voice of Dissent”, “Dirt and Roses”,and “Sight Unseen”—would fit in pretty well with that album, though “Grammatizator” stands out from the pack as an aggressive, 2-minute hardcore blast. “But Tonight We Dance”, a b-side from 2006’s The Sufferer & the Witness, is a good example of the driving-but-accessible sound that’s made Rise Against the most successful melodic hardcore group in recent memory. There’s also an early version of “Give It All” from the Rock Against Bush compilations; the song was an early hit for the band when it was re-recorded for 2004’s Siren Song of the Counter Culture.
Of the originals, my favorites are the ones from the early years. “Join the Ranks” and “Generation Lost” both came out on compilations in Fat Wreck Chords’ Fat Music series in the early 2000s and introduced me to the band. I have fond memories of skateboarding across campus at UCSD blasting these songs in my discman. “Obstructed View” and “Gethsemane” also came from these early years, the latter from an excellent compilation of Chicago bands called Oil: Chicago Punk Refined that was recorded in an old oil blending factory. Consequently the song has a live-in-the-studio feel, and Tim McIlrath’s throaty screams resurrect old feelings of being in my early 20s and angsty. Buried amongst the louder numbers is an acoustic take on early song “Everchanging” that shows off the band’s softer side.
The covers songs here are a treat and give insight into the bands that influenced Rise Against’s sound. For me this has always been one of the reasons I really like cover versions: Finding out which acts influenced my favorites, and checking out those bands’ catalogs, is largely how I learned my way backward through punk and hardcore. Hopefully this album will do the same for some of Rise Against’s younger fans, because there are some choice bands to be discovered here: Face to Face, Sick of It All, Minor Threat, Black Flag, Lifetime, and Nirvana are all given treatments, and most of them sound big and full thanks to the band’s usual production team of Bill Stevenson and Jason Livermore (the Minor Threat and Nirvana covers are rougher, the former being a live cut while the latter is live-in-the-studio for The A.V. Club’s Undercover series).
Elsewhere the band steps outside the punk rock genre in their song selection. A take on Bob Dylan’s “Ballad of Hollis Brown” starts off jangly before building to a full rock number. Their cover of Journey’s “Any Way You Want It”, originally a hidden track on 2003’s Revolutions per Minute, is played faithfully to the original. An old-school hardcore breakdown is squeezed into the end of the band’s take on The Weeds theme “Little Boxes”. On their cover of The Nightmare Before Christmas tune “Making Christmas” they make the interesting flourish of mimicking Danny Elfman’s orchestral parts on guitar, bass, and drums, which actually turns out sounding really cool. The final cut brings in guest musicians Wayne Kramer (MC5), Tom Morello (Rage Against the Machine), and Brian Fallon (The Gaslight Anthem) for a live rendition of Bruce Springsteen’s “The Ghost of Tom Joad”, which extends to an 8 minute jam with Morello delivering his usual guitar theatrics (he’s covered the song before, with Rage).
Long Forgotten Songs is a collection that’s not just for dedicated fans. Rise Against are one of those bands whose rarities are often as strong as their album cuts. This record is career-spanning, pretty thorough, and contains some excellent highlights (“Generation Lost”, “Gethsemane”) and kickass covers (“Built to Last”, “Nervous Breakdown”). If I must fault it, it’s for not being thorough enough: Leaving off their cover of Black Flag’s “Fix Me” from the Tony Hawk’s American Wasteland soundtrack feels like an oversight, as does missing the early version of “Swing Life Away” from Punk Goes Acoustic which would have further accentuated the band’s tender side. But these are pithy complaints. I’ve been ambivalent about Rise Against’s last few studio albums, but this compilation reminded me why I liked them early on.