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Against Me!: Searching for a Former Clarity

Against Me!: Searching for a Former Clarity

Label:Fat Wreck Chords
Release Date:2005

By Mikael Wood | Posted 12/7/2005

When Against Me! tries its road-coarsened hands at a taut disco-rock groove in “Unprotected Sex With Multiple Partners,” it’s not hopping aboard the recent bandwagon that’s been carrying feckless hipsters toward temporary renown—not to mention unprotected sex with multiple partners. In a 2004 tour doc tellingly titled We’re Never Going Home, singer/guitarist Tom Gabel speaks candidly about being courted by major labels eager for the patch-wearing punks who commit AM!’s anti-authoritarian rants to memory. Who knows how many expense-account dinners it takes to turn hard-touring crusties into dance-rock drones?

Searching for a Former Clarity is Against Me!’s third album, and like Going Home, it’s also well named. Sporting a crisp production job by Jawbox’s J. Robbins (the Jon Brion of post-hardcore), it presents a clear-and-present vision of the rough-and-tumble pub-rock AM! has been burning down basements with since 2000. Duct-taped DIY purists will complain about the newfound sheen, but Gabel’s songs deserved a clear channel long before he could afford one.

In “Miami,” he rails against poisoned water and the futility of antibiotics over a monstrous cow-punk groove accented with vinegary horn jabs. “From Her Lips to God’s Ears (The Energizer)” trembles with pseudo-Springsteen power chords while Gabel asks Condoleezza Rice what we should “do about the situation in Iraq and North Korea.” And in “Unprotected Sex,” over the sort of angular guitars every A&R guy in America would trade his BlackBerry for, Gabel eviscerates the record biz, breaking down the percentage points his agent and manager receive with caustic wit. “We’re completely irrelevant on LP and compact disc,” he finally roars, disgusted with a system even sleazier than his message-board detractors could imagine.

The (International) Noise Conspiracy is hardly egregious enough to serve as a target for the kind of vitriol Gabel spews throughout Clarity. Yet on the new Armed Love (finally getting a domestic release a year after its European issue), the Swedish garage-punk propagandists sound uncomfortably like the victims of the soul-depleting meat-grinder Gabel describes.

When singer Dennis Lyxzén formed the (I)NC out of the ashes of his great Swedish art-punk group the Refused, the band had fun attacking the capitalist mainframe with ready-made slogans and daring haircuts inspired by its D.C.-based forerunners, the Nation of Ulysses. Sadly, the spark appears extinguished. Despite Rick Rubin’s muscular production, which makes room for Billy Preston’s organ and Saturday Night Live saxophone, Armed Love plays like a satire of revolution rock: lifeless, bloated, self-serious. A smart cookie, Lyxzén may be trying to get one over on us: Surface glitter has consumed his inner grit, get it? Next to Against Me!’s righteous crunch, though, his joke falls exceedingly flat.

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