When Brand New's sophomore effort Deja Entendu came out, there was an incredible amount of hype behind it. I really loved it at first, simply because the band had taken an all-new direction and really created this strange amalgam of musical styles. However, when it comes down to it, I found quite a few songs on the record to be skippable, while all the good ones were really, really great. I was left wondering, "Well, that was good; it'll be interesting to see how they can take this total transformation and manage to try and top it."
And so I waited with what seemed like the rest of the world for this new record. And we waited. And then some demos leaked and people screamed (typed) at the top of their lungs (fingers)...that they weren't really sure how they felt about them yet. But it was something new from the band (who seems to get bigger for every second they ignore their fans). And for months there were rumors about album titles, lyrics from bootleg videos on YouTube, and what Jesse Lacey had eaten for breakfast that morning.
So now we have the finished product of The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me. And it's a strange album to listen to, because most of the time it is 100% amazing. It's fantastic and would be an instant classic...if it weren't for the few times it turns around and falls completely on it's face.
First, let's start off with the inevitable argument of "what demos should and should not have been on the album." Personally, I was hoping to see the first one on here. However, this is the exact reason why it's a bad thing that demos leak; from here on out, people will argue what they wish the album would have been instead of what it is, and creates really wasted arguments on subject matter that has no relevance anymore. I'm sure if the band likes the unused songs, we'll hear them sometime.
The music that did make the cut takes equal influence from the successful `90s alt-rock/grunge formula, as well as the post-hardcore disregard for standard verse-chorus-verse structure, and the most minute but brilliant of production decisions. This is a record that is even better when listened to on headphones. The band has written some great hooks here, but adding a violin to the introduction of the standout, "You Won't Know," gives this riff a sense of haunting urgency. I'd say the strongest point of the record is guitarist Vin Accardi's ability to take these total pop riffs and transform them to incredibly depressing echoes of faults, in the same way Jesse Lacey has taken his absolutely magnificent voice and uses it to do nothing but depress you.
And he does it well. Lacey's voice has never been this amazing. And he's done pulling punches, both on his fans (from "Sowing Season (Yeah):" "I am not your friend / I am just a man who knows how it feels / I am not your friend / I'm not your lover / I'm not your family") and himself (from "Limousine:" "In the choir / I saw our sad messiah / He was bored and tired of my laments / He said, 'I would die for you one time, but never again'"). The fact that Lacey can make someone like me, an incredibly loud-mouthed agnostic who hates organized religion, feel not only drawn to but moved by a song like "Jesus Christ," really says something about how far he's come as a writer since the days when he wanted to stay 18 forever.
Musically, this album is pretty much spot-on. The drums provide such an amazing backbone, rolling through songs like "Archers" and providing great backdrops for the softer parts of songs, like "Degausser." The guitars are, again, spectacular. The production choice to really drive them home was a good one, and even on the instrumental "Welcome to Bangkok" they hold their own against the lack of vocals.
However, this record is not perfect, and it was so close. The second instrumental, "Untitled," is completely unnecessary and -- here's where I'll say it -- should have been replaced by another of the demos (the B-side "Coca-Cola" would be an appropriate one). The chorus/ending on "Handcuffs" is pretty poor, lyrics-wise, "Not the Sun" is not that great (save for the ace breakdown), and "Limousine" wastes too much time at the end of the song with ambient guitar. These are faults varying from nitpicky to outrageous, but they really detract from the album, simply because the rest is so, so good. And, honestly, I don't think these are that nitpicky; remember, it's been over three years since Deja Entendu. Granted, the band tours and takes time off and whatnot, but there was certainly time in there to correct the mistakes that were made.
The bad parts of this record are good, but the great parts of this record are mind-blowingly outstanding. The first seven tracks are stellar, from the mid-tempo ("Millstone") to the penitent ("Jesus Christ") and the searing self-deprecation ("Degausser"). I personally think "Luca" is going to remain my favorite from this record, as no song has had me outwardly rocking out in a long time, and the frenetic ending is absolutely perfect. About 80% of this record is the best music Brand New has ever written, and makes me really excited for what they'll do next. I just hope it doesn't take three years to get there.