An album as anticipated as this one is daunting to approach. It's tempting to write some sort of treatise on Against Me!'s place in the punk scene (if there is one), the nature of independent versus major labels, the "punk ghetto," and a whole heft of other topics. The one thing that all of these topics -- which are sure to be covered here, there and elsewhere -- miss the real point, which is the music.
The album starts out with the title track, "New Wave." While the name implies something innovative, the song delivers little of anything new or interesting from the band. The chorus is bland, the drumming repetitive and obnoxious and the general feel exhausted. The subject matter, sadly, is more of the same self-obsession that we saw so prevalent on Searching for a Former Clarity. "Up the Cuts" follows with its similar subject matter -- what appears to be an indictment of the music industry from all sides. A later track, "Piss and Vinegar" approaches the same sort of commentary and quite frankly it all just falls flat. I'm personally just not interested in hearing a grown man complain about the politics of the music industry while he is digging himself deeper and deeper into them with each interview, music video and ill-placed duet he places on an album.
The lead single, "White People for Peace," feels moderately out of place on the album, along with the previously live-only release "Americans Abroad." Both songs feature a more "traditional" Against Me! approach, although both come across hollow in the end. "White People" is particularly frustrating given that the band rose to popularity singing "protest songs in response to military aggression" themselves. There's an air of smug "insight" that runs through the album, serving more to frustrate and insult the listener than educate them in any way.
There are standout tracks on the album. Well, standout in a way that demands attention, negative as it may be. "Stop" features quite possibly the most obnoxious combination of repeated phrases and drumbeat since the Bee Gees' debuted "Stayin' Alive." This combined with the worn out subject matter of the music industry and all the woes found within, I wonder if the band really did stop and take some time to think about what the hell they were doing here. "Animal" and "Ocean" close the album in a bizarre fashion. The former sounds like an excerpt from an early 90s Stone Temple Pilots cover band. It's so out of place and left field that it falls flat on its face. "Ocean" is a grower. First it grows on you with its long, flowing narrative, then it falls off you as you realize Against Me! have produced the "punk rock" version of R. Kelly's "Trapped in the Closet," an 18-part tribute to Mr. Kelly's amazing ability to weave a 45-minute-long story without actually engaging the listener at any point. Quite frankly, the pretension combined with the lack of anything interesting going on musically is enough to kill my interest.
The much-anticipated duet with Tegan of Tegan and Sara is frustrating. The voices are barely able to play off each other as they weave a sophomoric story of love and distance. Again, it's simply not engaging to the listener. It sounds as if they took a similar route to Less Than Jake's last album and brought in some industry "hit writers" for this song. I think there was real potential here, as Tegan's voice is beautiful and could have provided a nice contrast to Tom's wailing; however, missed potential seems to be the name of the game here.
Though all is not lost, one supposes. The song "Thrash Unreal" features a great opening with its solid drumbeat and story of a worn-out drug addict looking for redemption. You can't help but feel as Tom cries "They don't know nothing about redemption, they don't nothing about recovery," that he's speaking about himself in some manner. This song is the shining star, although by the end of the song the lyrics have petered out, giving us the limp attack of "she can still hear the 'Rebel Yell' just as loud as it was in 1983" and it threatens to fall apart. Thankfully, the chorus is strong enough to carry you out feeling good when repeated ad naseum for a good 30 seconds.
Once the scene politics are gone, the 12" remixes forgotten and we all get over ourselves, the only thing that matters is the music. Sadly, it seems like Against Me! forgot that this time around, opting instead for rehashed and clichéd melodies and subject matters. They found themselves poised to deliver an album that proved that the "punk ghetto" was holding them back, that they could write an album without relying on some sort of veiled meta-critique of their own actions or that they still had the lyrical and musical magic that captured so many kids in so many basements, clubs and bars as they truly changed the landscape of the punk scene a scant four years ago. Sadly, they delivered a watered-down album full of rehashed themes, misplaced grabs at commercial play and a truckload of questionable choices in stylistic tangents.