As a music fan, I tend to be pretty skeptical by nature when an upstart band receives a huge push for a specific album. In almost every instance, the hype does a piss poor job of living up to the months of expectation thrust upon an album. In some cases, the hype is so bad I just tune everything out, and end up never even giving the album a shot. I still have yet to listen to the Arcade Fire's Funeral in its entirely, for no reason other than for an album to garner the accolades it has, it has to be a letdown upon finally listening to it. Anberlin's sophomore effort, Never Take Friendship Personal, has had a decently-sized buzz surrounding it for months, and it was for that reason I had yet to hear anything from it until a few days ago. Well, this album just may prove not all buzz bands are a perpetual letdown.
Tooth & Nail has not always been the most impressive label to me with their output. It has nothing to do with the Christian affiliation - really, more a complete lack of solid acts signed. Aside from the first Further Seems Forever album, nothing has really grasped my attention until now. Anberlin succeeds in bringing nothing new to the musical table, yet bringing to that same table some engaging guitar hooks and some of the best melodies from any pop-rock band in recent memory. It's not the kind of melody that's provided by a seasoned veteran at the mixing board, either - it's a genuine sense of melody and harmony that the vocals exemplify in every single song. The band as a whole obviously knows how to play off the vocal strengths of the lead singer, as the songs appear to be crafted completely around the melody. Whether the tempo is at its standard upbeat pace, or slowed down at points, the choruses will have you tapping your foot and singing along when you don't even realize it. The album's title track, "Never Take Friendship Personal," sets a great pace with the intertwining guitar work and hits you with one of the catchiest choruses on the entire album. Amidst the solid guitar work in the album's third track, "Stationary Stationery," the other of the album's catchiest choruses hits you, and again has you singing along. "The Symphony of Blasé" follows that up to slow down the album's tempo, with a song that's sure to stir the emotions of some people, though I find it to be one of the more forgettable tracks on the album. There's just not a lot of substance to it, and while I appreciate the diversity in tempos Anberlin can provide, it interrupts the flow more than anything. While the vocals are where Anberlin are most strongly suited, the lyrics bring out some weaknesses in songwriting structure.
Compared to the other aspects of the album, it just doesn't seem as much thought was put into crafting solid lyrical content as there could have been. "The Runaway" is one instance where the instrumentation sets a great structure to things, with some thick bass lines and interesting chord progressions, but since the vocals are at such a forefront, the lyrics are also at an added focus; "Time will tell, time will tell or tear us apart / Miles away, silence reveals where you really are / You only stand to break my heart." There's really no Christian undertones in the lyrics, save a few lines in "The Feel Good Drag" where the devil is mentioned. Outside of that, however, the religion is kept at a non-existent level. Lyrical subjects appear to stick mostly to relationships, and similar themes that one would expect from a band of this nature. That really is the only detraction from an otherwise sound album. The actual music is definitely not an afterthought, as it ends up being with similar bands. The production accents each musician well, with the exception of the drummer who's rarely heard from. Anberlin tinker with a few different guitar styles, sometimes darker and more distorted, other times letting the clean guitar accent the harmonies.
Creating an interesting piece of music while bringing nothing new to the table is not something easily accomplished, but Never Take Friendship Personal is one hell of a guilty pleasure. It's quite possible that in a months time this record will have completely left my musical registry, but for the time that it's here it's making for quite an enjoyable listen. Anberlin aren't breaking any walls down, or changing people's very conception of what music is, but I'm sure they're perfectly content in letting their choruses sink into your head for a week or two.