I really liked the A-F debut, Quitters Never Win, by Much the Same, but it always seemed to sound a bit amateur to me (maybe it was just punk, maybe it was inexperience). With that said, this is a big step up for the band. With better production (Cameron Webb) and a few added years of experience, the band sounds better than they ever have before.
Survive opens with “The Greatest Betrayal,” which most fans have probably heard at this point, as it’s the one that’s been on their MySpace page about a year now. It has been re-recorded though, with a new ending that adds an extra refrain. The decision to open with this track is both good and bad. It’s easily the hardest song on Survive, so it’s a kickass way to start things off. On the other hand, for anyone that likes the harder side of Much the Same, this is never matched again on this album.
What fans do get on the rest of the album is a barrage of great songwriting. The band is much more daring this time around. While sticking with a familiar and fast punk sound, there is more straight rock influence in the music than ever. The concentration seems to be more on progression, on each track and as an album. In an early listen, the word “timeless” came up on Punknews. While that term seems a little cheesy and it’s too early to judge this album’s staying power over the years, the progression, songwriting, and rock sound makes Survive an album that it’s hard to pin to a particular generation, which in the end, may be what keeps it around for awhile. It’s not 2006 Nitro-style punk, it’s just damn good music.
“American Idle,” the second track, is the band’s first real foray into politics. The whole song is worth quoting, but “I’m a bad cliché that too many of us portray / Blood spills on the ground and all our hands are dripping now” is a good example. The song faces the idea of neglecting American responsibilities, and therefore feeling responsible for some of the current world affairs. It’s a great area for Much the Same to go, because it shares a political feeling, without turning the band into pushy political preachers.
“Skeletons,” which comes exactly halfway through the 11-track album, is, so far, the best track I’ve heard this year from any band. The composition and development of the song is simply amazing, with some very background, but very intricate guitar work highlighting the song. The track deals with the skeletons everyone has (to some degree), but not owning up to the fact that you’re not perfect. “Self righteous and hiding who you really are, trying to cover your scars / But they’re there, don’t deny who you really are / You play the fool when you drown your sorrows at the bar, that life won’t get you very far.”
The first five or six times I listened to this album, the first half felt very strong, while the end seemed to trail off a bit. Then, on a ride home one day, a few of the songs just really clicked with my life. Of course, this doesn’t necessarily mean the songs are great. In fact, I still believe that musically, the first seven or so songs are better written than those that come later. Lyrically, though, the songs on this album range from politics, to religion, to the band’s writer’s block, to a music scene that’s rejecting fast punk rock and being part of that. Throughout all of these, though, the songs are written on a very personal level, which gives them that power to connect.
And the songs near the end of the album aren’t complete shit, it’s really just nit-picking. When you have something so good to start, it’s hard not to hold it to higher standards. There are some brilliant musical moments throughout the album, such as the vocal turn from the second verse of “For Those Left Behind” that leads back into the chorus “…stare through my hazy eyes / At the blank sheet that’s in front of me, but no one wants to hear me sing about / How the scene is bleeding, but I can’t shake this feeling that’s inside.”
“Picking Up the Shattered Pieces” is a great endcap to the album, lyrically summing up what the band has gone through to get to this point, and looking forward at what is to come.
The guitars aren’t as prominent on here as Quitters Never Win, with guitarist Dan O’Gorman having less solo work, but much more intricate subtleties exist within the songs. The bass parts also garner more attention this time around, the drums are on, and the vocals are better than ever, with McGrath still dominating the leads, but aided by a lot of powerful backups from bassist Franky Tsoukalas. In the end, the few weaker areas of the album are overshadowed by its points of brilliance. The fact that the whole band was behind the writing of this album really shows, and it has the great feel of an “album” as opposed to a collection of songs. This band has taken a huge step forward, and Survive is one of the must-own albums of 2006…in this reviewer’s opinion.