The Used's new album pushes limits of momentum

Album from band in transition never feels complete

By ANTHONY HILBERT
On April 8, 2014

Album: Imaginary Enemy

Artist: The Used

Label: Hopeless Records

Release Date: April 1

Grade: C

 

The enemy of The Used is hardly imaginary - time has not been friendly to Bert and company, who were once the undisputed front-runners of a now languishing scene.

In their sixth studio album, the band continues a transition from an early, meteoric rise that has never felt complete. Uncomfortably traversing rock sub-genres since, that early success is likely the only reason The Used has pushed on to a sixth album.

The band's first, self-titled album burst through 2002 like little before it, defining the nascent post-hardcore scene and thrusting The Used to its forefront. Iconic songs like "Taste of Ink" gained mainstream success and still garner crowd sing-a-longs today.

The Used parlayed that momentum into 2004's In Love and Death, an inspired and impassioned album that secured the band's position in the growing scene. The mix was there - angst, love, youth and a hauntingly powerful blend of melodic, emotional pieces balanced by thrashing tunes.

Alas, though the trend seems almost cliché today, that early success soon faltered. For fans still desperately clinging to those early albums, the road became bleak.

The Used's next three albums suffered from the same problem - an aging band with an aging fan base was doing rain dances in the hopes of lightning striking twice, seeking momentum that could carry through to their newest album.

Lies for the Liars was mixed at best, with every solid song balanced by two duds. Artwork was more experimental, with the band moving toward a more alternative, hard rock sound. The band was trying, succeeding at times, but failing enough to make the whole album feel shaky. Vulnerable continued the search for stable ground in the hard rock sub-genre, but the foray into a more mature sound and lyrical content felt inauthentic at best.

With Imaginary Enemy, the band doubles down on their commitment to change. It was surely only a matter of time until the band's message and lyrics went the way of their sound - that is, far from their roots. Not to exalt stagnation, but one hopes when a band changes, it is to improve.

The highly politicized album, with songs like "Revolution" and the title track "Imaginary Enemy," lacks any of the genuine fervor that political rock and punk is known for. Acts like Rise Against and Anti-Flag are recognized for, if nothing else, unparalleled devotion to their respective causes.

Imaginary Enemy struggles with all the issues political rock often faces - lack of focus, at times ill-defined plans for the way forward - but strips away any energy and passion the sub-genre leverages to excite and provoke. The transition from the subject matters of love and death to politics feels forced and rushed, as a band still unsure of itself grasps for any thread they find.

Lyrically, this album suffers. Criticizing topics that likely came out of their old middle school history textbooks, tracks like "A Song to Stifle Imperial Progression" do little to incite revolution. A war-weary generation that has seen corporate excess crash global markets, popular uprisings all but fail and have yet to witness "change" need more than lines like "the revolution starts with me."

Every message calling for a better world or kinder society falls flat - they're too vague, too overt. The album lacks cohesion. Each track feels lost, save for their shared dislocation, and continues the pattern of the band's last three releases - a few solid tunes amidst twice as many forgettable ones.

Honed riffs and polished and unified instrumentals throughout make the album tolerable; surely the result of a band with over a decade's experience playing together.

But even great guitars solos can't cover up the naïveté of songs like "El-Oh-Vee-Ee," calling for love as a pragmatic solution to capitalism.

This album is indicative of a band in transition that shows little hope of ever coming to fruition. At this point, The Used is more interesting to follow as a case study than to listen to, just to see how long a band can survive off mediocre releases with their greatest contributions now over a decade in the past.

Momentum has gotten them this far, but don't fans deserve more than memories?

 

email: arts@ubspectrum.com


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