Against Me! - Total Clarity (Cover Artwork)

Against Me!

Total Clarity (2011)

Fat Wreck Chords

Across the board, Searching for a Former Clarity's release in 2005 was an enormous step for Against Me!. While their songwriting, musicianship, production, and popularity increased substantially over the course of their previous two full-lengths, it was with SfaFC that a clear line had been drawn within their sonic output. In the course of listening to the album, one could almost hear the band evolving and expanding their sound in real time. With J. Robbins at the helm, Against Me! released what I would consider the best sounding album of their catalog, production-wise. So naturally, I was incredibly excited and curious to hear the unfinished demo versions of the songs, which is what Total Clarity consists of.

While 2009's The Original Cowboy, the demos for 2003's As the Eternal Cowboy, is faster, sloppier, and rougher around the edges than the glorious final product, it really wasn't that much of a sonic difference, and the songs themselves sound finished. However, on this release, the difference is very noticeable, and the songs are very clearly demos. On tracks like "Miami", "The Shaker" and "Unprotected Sex with Multiple Partners", the band hasn't quite gotten a tight grip on the vocal cadence just yet. "Miami" in particular suffers from a lack of gruff anger (and horns!) that made the final version so fantastic.

For several of these songs, this isn't the first time that they've been widely circulated. Most fans (and probably the majority of this site's readership) acquired at least six of these demos via the internet after a fan stole a tape from the band at a show in 2004. However, they receive a drastic sonic improvement on this release. In particular, two songs left off the final album, "Exhaustion and Disgust" (aka "Exhaustion" or "Take Aim") and "Lost and Searching in America" (aka "Ed is Sexy" or "Clap, Clap") benefit from this, forcing this reviewer to question why they were left off the album. "Exhaustion and Disgust" is an exceptionally good track in which Tom Gabel's frustrations with the scene are vented in a perfect syncing of lyrics and music, resulting in one of the hardest songs Against Me! has ever released. "Lost and Searching in America" is fantastic as well, featuring some infectious "whoa-oh"s, and honestly wouldn't seem that out of place on As the Eternal Cowboy. We are also treated to an electrified version of "How Low", and another version of "Joy" that differs from the two on the stolen demo.

'Don't Lose Touch" and "Even at Our Worst We're Still Better Than Most (The Roller)" are noticeably absent, but an unreleased song, "Money Changes Everything", and a very rough version of the title track finish out the album. I honestly can understand why "Money Changes Everything" didn't make the final cut. It isn't very interesting lyrically or musically, and at the end, Tom even remarks that he fucked up while playing it. However, I always enjoy hearing unreleased recordings. "Total Clarity" is the most "demo" sounding of the songs (if you get what I mean), almost sounding like it was recorded at home. Listening to it, I yearned for the crescendo-ing power of the album version, which is one of their finest recorded moments.

Overall, this was an enjoyable listen, and worth getting for the unreleased songs alone, but I can't imagine listening to most of this on a regular basis, as I just see myself choosing the final album versions instead. I'd give this a seven, but the awesomeness of "Exhaustion and Disgust" bumps up the score for me. YEAH!