ust be tough being in Against Me!, huh? They spend most of New Wave arguing for a new wave, relating how restless they are, bemoaning the uselessness of protest songs, and telling people to stop, take some time to think, and figure out what’s important to you. But because they do it with massed walls of guitars behind them and a major label record contract, they’ve alienated the fans that allegedly eat these topics up.
Or that’s what someone wants you to believe. But the facts don’t lie: New Wave hit #57 on the Billboard charts in its first week, besting its predecessor by more than 50 spots. Spin recently asked on its front cover whether it might just be the best record of the year. Ben Lee just covered the thing in its entirety and posted it on his website. Publicly and critically, the band is riding high. And why shouldn’t they be? New Wave is a catchy little thing that only has one major misstep (“Stop!”) and a number of obvious highlights (“New Wave,” “Borne on the FM Waves of the Heart”).
Another interesting fact about New Wave is that I just don’t get it at all. I’ll admit freely that I’d never heard a note of their folk-punk until digesting all the praise for New Wave and deciding to review this record. (And, anyway, the band has said in interviews that they want people to hear this record apart from their previous work, so I feel fine in obliging them.) I’d argue, though, that being an expert on the group’s verbose and ragged past wouldn’t help all that much. This is a different sounding band with pretty much the exact same lyrical concerns. Get over it.
Maybe the problem is that those concerns are so general as to be useless. “Is anyone restless like me?” Sure. Americans abroad act stupid? Right. You have some trepidation about your band signing a major label contract? Of course you do. In fact, it’s only when lead singer Tom Gabel gets slightly oblique that he begins to hit on any ideas or feelings that approach a complexity befitting a college graduate. “There’s an ocean in my soul where the waters do not curve” goes the refrain to “The Ocean,” but it’s preceded by Gabel admitting that he would’ve chosen to have been born a woman. Then again, it might simply be the music. New Wave is pop-punk through and through, rarely stooping to acknowledge other genres. And when it does—“Stop,” their Franz Ferdinand moment—the band proves itself feeble enough at stepping outside of its comfortable niche that you might wish it hadn’t done so in the first place.
I’ll admit that I feel conflicted about this band. (Which is a whole hell of a lot more than I feel about a lot of other bands.) But I also expected much, much more and it, honestly, kinda pisses me off that “this is it.” Are we really settling for a guy who recognizes the complexity of modern life in song? Shouldn’t we be rooting for the people that have gotten past it and are busy creating art in the face of that inexorable fact? If you want a world full of adults, start treating us like them.
Reviewed by: Charles Merwin
Reviewed on: 2007-08-22