I'm going to address the obvious issue this album is going to face right away. Yes. It sounds like Alkaline Trio. There are a couple songs that sound like (improved) leftovers from This Addiction ("Luciferian Blues," "Olivia"). What did you expect? The lyrics are dark and the guitar tones aren't much of a stretch from the Trio's sound. The fact of the matter is that this is not an Alkaline Trio record and should not be treated as such. This is the product of Matt Skiba taking full control of the songwriting and making something that is entirely his own. It serves as a bit of a double edged sword that ends up helping much more than it hurts.
Now that that's out of the way, lets get down to Babylon.
Right away, it blasts off with the amazing one-two punch of "Voices" and "All Fall Down." Rob Ramos from Strung Out does a magnificent job with the harmonies. After hearing this album, I can't imagine anyone not Dan Andriano doing a better job complementing Skiba's vocal style. Matt said one of his biggest influences for this record was '80s post-punk/dance music and goddamn does it show. These two songs stand out as the best examples of that. Driving guitars and catchy choruses grab the listener, shake them up and leave them wanting more. "Falling Like Rain" is another solid example of the '80s pop style; this time, in the way the keyboards are used. There are plenty of synthesizer sounds to be heard throughout, but they are pushed to the forefront this time around and it pays off. I love the way that they cross fade in and out to break the somber tone and enforce the distinct sense of poppiness found on this record.
As a kid, I always wondered if rock stars led tumultuous love lives just to get inspiration for their songwriting. I don't know if that's the case with Skiba, but he sings an awful lot about the subject and it pays off. There are plenty of instances of him successfully turning lemons into lemonade. "Haven't You" is a great example of this with lines like "I thought I lost it all the day I lost you / It's taken me until just now to find the truth / You've always been here, haven't you?" If anyone has taken to Josh Caterer's concept that dark songs don't have to have matching music behind them, it's Matt Skiba. Just listen to "Voices." In the midst of dancing your ass off, you may find yourself pausing a moment to realize the despair in the chorus: "All alone with the voices in your head / Skin and bones / Hell knows all the poison you've been fed."
My only real criticism of this record is that the band members that aren't Skiba (Hunter and Jarrod Alexander) are very much underutilized. As a huge fan of Hunter's bass playing with AFI, I was disappointed to hear his skill kept to a minimum. Every once in a while, you could hear an improvised fill, but for the most part he takes a step back to let Matt shine. I don't know much about Alexander or his playing style, but I feel like he didn't do anything extraordinary on this record. There's a big reason why it is "Matt Skiba and the Sekrets" and I feel the record suffered, if only slightly because of this issue. I don't mean to imply the songs are bad by any means, but it's hard not to imagine what they could have been if everyone just cut loose. It wouldn't be such a big deal if this hadn't been touted as a super-group of sorts. Ideally, if there is a followup to Babylon and the lineup stays the same, I would like to see more of a collaboration between the three of them in the songwriting. I would also like to hear more of whoever was doing back ups on "You" and "Olivia." Although her voice was subtle, it added a haunting degree to the songs that gave me chills.
With Babylon, Skiba set out to put out a record that was distinctly "him." While there is no new ground broken on this album, it definitely stands out as his strongest solo effort to date. Matt said he wanted to do a more rock-oriented sound and he very much succeeded on this front. Although I thought it was rather trite that when asked what his favorite song on the album was, he replied that he loved the whole thing; I'm very much inclined to agree.
Now, if someone could explain the costume in his press pictures, that would be perfect.