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Alkaline Trio

Spreading like wildfire through the States and beyond, power-pop/emo-punk of the revivalist variety has given a new meaning to the time’s disaffected and dysfunctional youth, while drawing a squidgy line through angst-y GREEN DAY and FALL OUT BOY; and back up to ELVIS COSTELLO & THE ATTRACTIONS and The DICKIES. The visceral ALKALINE TRIO have confounded their knockers since their formation in McHenry, Illinois, way back at the tail end of 1996, and with four Top 30 albums behind them (culminating in 2013’s “My Shame Is True”), it looks unlikely that the trio will succumb to any critical sniping.
Messrs Matt Skiba (vocals/guitar), Rob Doran (bass) and Glenn Porter (drums) had all been active in various local combos, the former, a drummer no less, with Chicago’s Jerkwater. Inspired by 70s punk/new wave and er… drinking, the ‘Trio took the proverbial plunge in the late 90s, having replaced Doran with dual frontman and bassist, Dan Andriano, on the back of a much sought-after indie 45, `Sundials’; released in 1997.
From 1998’s GODDAMMIT {*7} – their first of two sets for garage/DIY imprint Asian Man – to the equally cathartic and confrontational FROM HERE TO INFIRMARY (2001) {*5}, via MAYBE I’LL CATCH FIRE (2000) {*7}, these square-chinned lads from the Windy City finally came of age by supporting BLINK-182 around the States. However, by the dawn of 2000, they’d lost Porter, who was superseded by Mike Felumlee (ex-Smoking Popes).
Vagrant Records just might’ve been panicking a tad with the aforementioned third album’s lukewarm response, but with a newfound drive and an ambition to match (Derek Grant from SUICIDE MACHINES was also instated as AT’s new sticksman), the power and the glory oozed from 2003’s GOOD MOURNING {*8}. Featuring a sleeve shoot that depicted all three members dressed in black and looking suspiciously like shifty bouncers at a dodgy goth club, the group-penned set delivered malevolent and nihilistic numbers of note in `We’ve Had Enough’ and `All On Black’; two attendant minor UK hits to match its Top 40 status. The music within was a blaring blend of squeal-metal and inflammable catchiness, infusing punk-pop melodies with atmospheric emo-rock. The only time ALKALINE TRIO let down their guard was with the set’s closing piece, `Blue In The Face’, an acoustic-tinged dirge paying homage to broken relationships. In turn, the band managed to mix and match sour glumness with gigantic, anthemic pop-rock melodies for the masses – think MEN AT WORK on punk pills.
From its 80s-styled sleeve to its DEPECHE MODE-lite naval-gazing, CRIMSON (2005) was full of the usual rock star-pampered negativity, ruminated over in songs fleshed out by Roger Manning’s piano (he of JELLYFISH, for the uninitiated). The Jerry Finn-produced album hit the Top 40 on both sides of the Atlantic, and produced similarly charting UK singles, `Time To Waste’, `Mercy Me’ and `Burn’.
Attaching themselves to major label Sony (V2 in Britain), AGONY & IRONY (2008) {*6}, their perfect pop prowess grated a little at times, although their soapy-bubbles teen dramas were still as catchy and hook-line as ever; sadly the download charts were no place for flops, `Love Love, Kiss Kiss’ and `Help Me’. When Epitaph Records came to the band’s rescue at the turn of decade, the masters of pure punk/heavy hardcore, it heralded a new beginning for the Alka T’s. THIS ADDICTION (2010) {*6} packed all the usual suspect punches, but for one thing – the record was hardly a move from a decade ago, or for that matter, the 1039 smoothed out GREEN DAY clones kicking about since the advent of grunge. Maybe it was a generation thing, but could paint-by-punk-numbers tracks such as `Dine, Dine My Darling’, `Dorothy’ and `Off The Map’, stand up against proper punk classics like “Babylon’s Burning”, “Teenage Kicks” or the Day’s “American Idiot”? The answer has to be no!
One can sometimes judge a punk group by its covers, and AT certainly had a variety in:- `Bye Bye Love’ (The EVERLY BROTHERS), `Wait For The Blackout’ (The DAMNED), `The Exploding Boy’ (The CURE), `Over At The Frankenstein Place’ (Richard O’Brien), `Wake Up Exhausted’ (TEGAN AND SARA) and `Two Lips, Two Lungs And One Tongue’ (NOMEANSNO).
Anyhoo, three years was a good time to mull over their melodic musings, and given DESCENDENTS craftsman Bill Stevenson to oversee any flaws and foibles, the Trio’s eighth album, MY SHAME IS TRUE (2013) {*8}, was an infectious and heartfelt no-nonsense set of songs. Tipping their hat to new wave idol, ELVIS COSTELLO, who gave rise to creative punk some three and a half decades ago on the classy “My Aim Is True”, ALKALINE TRIO opened with the cloned/E.C.-listening `She Lied To The F.B.I.’. If 3-minute classics were back in vogue and on the table, Skiba, Andriano and Grant had several other cards up their sleeves by way of anthemic aces, `I Wanna Be A Warhol’, `I’m Only Here To Disappoint’, the bittersweet `Kiss You To Death’ and the FOO FIGHTERS-esque `I, Pessimist’. Recommended for punks of all ages.
Twenty years on from “Goddammit” (but sounding not a day older), ALKALINE TRIO’s ninth album IS THIS THING CURSED? (2018) {*6} begged the question… today’s punk rock… what’s it all about? Registering only a lowly No.68 peak position (UK Top 50), maybe in the previous five years, the dysfunctional youth had answered them in droves. Somehow, Skiba and Co managed to sound like a MEN AT WORK-meets-DEAD KENNEDYS fantasy punk machine, and in the opening salvo title track, the speedier `Blackbird’, `Little Help’ and `Pale Blue Ribbon’, the ‘Trio could only preach to the converted (now the alienated).
© MC Strong 2004-2006 / rev-up MCS Apr2013-Sep2018

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