Alkaline Trio is a punk band. Punk music, by definition, is and has always been an anti-establishment form of expression that aims to blatantly defy and oppose mainstream culture. The Hills is not punk. It came as somewhat of a surprise, then, when the nearly 14-year-old Chicago band Alkaline Trio appeared on MTV’s reality show — infamous for catty drama and the glamorization of material objects.
The band debuted on the show in an effort to promote its sixth album, Agony & Irony, its first release on the major label Epic Records. Although this appearance happened about two years ago, the band has had to endure a great deal of criticism from its original hardcore fans for being on the show and having an association with a major record label. To many, the fateful appearance cemented the band’s image as being detached from its punk roots.
On its seventh and newest album entitled This Addiction, however, Alkaline Trio returned to those roots, dropping the major label for its own independent one, Heart and Skull Records, in association with parent company Epitaph Records. The band even returned to its hometown of Chicago to record the new album in the studio where it recorded its initial albums, Goddamnit and Maybe I’ll Catch Fire.
The result is an interesting mix of a return to the band’s earlier style and an evolution from its previous efforts. Many of the songs on This Addiction sound like those on the band’s earliest albums, as they consist of a more organic and stripped-down melodic punk.
With song titles like “Lead Poisoning,” “Dead on the Floor,” “Eating Me Alive” and “Piss and Vinegar,” it is apparent that Alkaline Trio has not abandoned its notoriously gloomy and depressing traditional subjects. Also in typical Trio fashion, these gruesome and heartbroken lyrics are sung with “a good voice,” as one of The Hills girls quipped on the show, over loud and fast, driving pop-punk backing tracks.
While many of the songs sound similar to the band’s earlier, less commercial work, some of them include additional elements that hint at musical evolution. “Lead Poisoning,” for instance, includes a horn solo, which is not usually present in the Trio’s music. The horn solo fits into the song, providing an enjoyable, unexpected sonic element that only proves that Alkaline Trio is continuing to evolve musically and creatively rather than just attempting to recreate its older albums.
Similarly, “Draculina” contains an organ and an interesting, echoing vocal effect throughout the song. Although pianos and additional instruments are not totally foreign to Alkaline Trio, the band still manages to implement the instruments into its songs while maintaining an organic sound, neither overproduced nor unnecessarily flashy.
The addition of synthesizer on the very next song, “Eating Me Alive,” however, sounds incredibly cheesy. It’s this song that reminds listeners of the band’s attempt to garner radio play and commercial success.
Other reminders of the band’s attempt to break into mainstream culture could be seen when they played a sold-out show at the House of Blues on the Sunset Strip last Tuesday. Matt Skiba, the band’s guitarist and singer, donned a Ralph Lauren polo, and a handful of semi-famous celebrities, including Tyson Ritter from All-American Rejects and Kat Von D from the television show L.A. Ink, watched from the balcony. The band played old classics such as “’97” and “Nose Over Tail” while die-hard fans sang and screamed along in the pit, but it was hard to ignore how far the band had strayed from its punk roots in recent years.
The band, however, does not seem totally ashamed of its efforts at breaking into mainstream pop culture. It preformed “In Vein,” the same song that was played on The Hills, at the concert, along with a variety of newer songs. At the same time, however, bassist and singer Dan Andriano said that the next song “never meant as much [to him] as it does now” before driving into the incredibly dark “One Hundred Stories,” which includes lyrics such as No one could tell even if I fell 100 stories straight down, down, down. Despite spending time in sunny Los Angeles and many attempts to breaking into mainstream culture, Alkaline Trio still maintains its dark and gloomy edge.
This Addiction demonstrates that fact, as the lyrics are angst-ridden and depressing, and the music is as loud and fast as it was on the band’s earliest albums. Ralph Lauren and The Hills may not be considered punk, but maybe it’s the fact that Matt Skiba doesn’t seem to care that he’s living in Los Angeles and wearing designer clothes that actually makes him punk. No matter its association with mainstream culture or punk roots, Alkaline Trio managed to make This Addiction an enjoyable album that is both similar to its older work and a musical representation of a creative evolution.