All this talk about trilogies lately has had me thinking about this new album, which represents the third of the Vagrant-era Alkaline Trio releases. From observation of trilogies like the Matrix, Indiana Jones and that other one with the wookies, there is a dawning realization that there is a formula to follow in developing an effective trilogy
The first should stand alone, because the opportunity to make a second is not always afforded. When you get to the next one however, it's fairly certain that a third will follow so you may be tempted to play with the formula a little. Sometimes - but rarely - this can be good, like Empire Strikes Back; other times, it can be disappointing: The Matrix Reloaded, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Good Mourning certainly fall into the latter category.
Thankfully, you can still redeem yourself with a strong third showing. The Last Crusade was so good that we were willing to forgive Temple of Doom, and the same can be said about Crimson, a record that successfully appropriates all the best ideas of From Here To Infirmary and Good Mourning while handily disposing of any of the cruft.
But before discussing Crimson, a look back at the previous two entries may be in order. From Here To Infirmary kept some of the old band, but went a decidedly pop-punk route and confined almost all of the darkness to the lyrics all the while producing some of their catchiest material to date. "Private Eye," "Bloodied Up" and "Stupid Kid" were terrific songs, but only if you were willing to forgive the musical departure.
The followup did not succeed as well, however; Good Mourning, while blessed with a few decent tracks, fell victim to weak production, frail vocals and uneven songwriting. It was passable, but certainly not to the standard of previous efforts and disappointed a many, myself included.
So while the opening salvo of previous records has been replaced with a reverb-heavy piano sequence, by the time "Time To Waste" ends, it seems perfectly placed and possesses plenty of that memorable sound and fury. It moves seemlessly into "The Poison," which delivers a newly invigorated Dan Andriano and his best vocal performance since Maybe I'll Catch Fire.
As "Burn" begins with its heavily processed guitars, one could dread the return of the Jerry Finn-overproduction that plagued Good Mourning, but instead as the song progresses, it seems right for the song particularly when combined with a particularly strong bridge -- complete with key change -- which delivers the hook and seals the deal for the second single.
"Dethbed" is among the best songs on the record and organically incorporated dueling vocals from both Skiba and Andriano. The return of "Sadie" from the BYO split seems a little disappointing, but its Damned-meets-Misfits moodiness and anthemic chorus has it fit so well into the track sequence that it seems to belong better here than even on the split. "Fall Victim," "Your Neck" and "I Was a Prayer" both certainly see the band returning to the pop-punk of Infirmary while "Back To Hell" sounds like a slightly uptempo B-side from Catch Fire. All in all, Crimson represents a uniformly strong showing of melodies and they are finally coupled with production worthy of the material.
The band does manage to evolve lyrically as well with the rather unpleasant image of a canine and some razor blades replaced with a far more abstract focus, coaching tales of binge drinking and depression with quasi-gothic imagery which reveals everything but commits to nothing. (Suffice to say, the poor dog certainly fares better on Crimson.)
With Crimson, Alkaline Trio has written the album most bands try to write their entire careers; one that wonderfully punctuates their trilogy of major releases and produces a perfectly accessible record that manages to do so without abandoning anything. The record that synthesizes all the bite and energy of songs that debuted to empty halls and brings it to the stage of their musical career defined by headlining tours and Hot Topic singles. A welcome return to form, and a record that will both win back old fans and win new ones.