[17 September 2009]
Youngish nasally-affected dudes from the suburbs, with an ear for a big chorus and an angst-ridden, deeply affected, well, everything. That sums up the Used quite efficiently, but here’s the kicker: it could also sum up any number of their generic Warped Tour peers. Ever since Gerard Way made a generation of neurotic teenagers swoon with his pretty melodrama, the rock world has seen wave upon wave of this not-quite metal, not-quite punk, not-quite anything alternative movement. The names roll off the tongue, screamed by fans and spat out by everybody else: Panic! at the Disco, Fall Out Boy, All American Rejects, Aiden. Oh yes, these “deep” souls might not have a trace of irony in their bodies, but boy, do they have the bucks to back it up.
And so we come back, exhausted, to the Used, Reprise’s latest in this never- ending line of pop-punk, manufactured tripe.
Now, believe it or not, I had hope for Artwork. Okay, so this Utah foursome was always going to be in the same Warped Tour emo circles as everybody else. Fair enough. But my first impression was of a band with enough artistic clout to avoid at least some of the clichés such a label demands. Add to that some decent pop sensibilities lying just beneath the surface—“Blue and Yellow”, off their self-titled debut, is a wee beauty—and you have potential challengers in a horribly overcrowded marketplace. So I put Artwork on, with an open mind and eager ears.
And, of course, it was more of the same.
The song titles say it all really. “Blood on My Hands”, “Sold My Soul”, “Watered Down”, “Come Undone”, and, (I promise I’m not making this up) “Kissing You Goodbye”. It’s an exercise in cliché that would be funny if it wasn’t so obnoxious.
The songs themselves are less offensive, but only because of their thoughtless predictability. First, we get a big, bombastic intro (“Blood On My Hands” and “Men Are All the Same” being the worst offenders) , followed by some lackluster and utterly forgettable lyricism from Bert McCracken. The frontman’s whiny tenor and identikit lyrics are probably the album’s worst sore point, so indistinguishable are they from his pop-punk contemporaries. And then, of course, comes the “anthemic” chorus, that which in a perfect world would be the band’s calling card, but here only functions as a little rise in volume to keep you awake. It’s all just too throwaway, and without any spiky hooks or catchy melodies to redeem itself.
That’s all without mentioning the jewel in this rusty, worn out crown of mediocrity—“Kissing You Goodbye”. I’m highlighting this song in particular because upon first hearing it, your reviewer was forced to turn it off and dive into something else to recover. Presumably, it’s the Used’s attempt at a heartfelt piano ballad, but it’s covered in so much syrupy schmaltz that the heart has long since given up and left proceedings altogether. McCracken’s lyrics, already causing a noxious cloud to rise over Artwork at this point, reach their nadir here: “On my own / I’m nothing / Just bleeding /
I’m not kissing you goodbye”. Anyone who can avoid feeling nauseous as this song does its regrettable thang will probably love Artwork, but I’m not one of them.
Good points? Well… At a stretch, “Empty With You” is a strangely compulsive guilty pleasure, boasting a skittering delay-pedal riff and the album’s only really strong chorus. “Sold My Soul” also has some tight drumming from Dan Whitesides, and “On the Cross” contains enough anti-establishment venom to make for a decent workaday rebel anthem.
In the end though, reviewing a Used album negatively is a little bit like complaining about Dr. Pepper—you won’t be alone, certainly, but there’ll always be a few fans ready to defy you regardless. Who knows, maybe that’s the way it should be, and I’m just a cynical dweeb who doesn’t “get it”. After sampling the tasteless, bland delights of Artwork though, I can’t imagine many will.