Strung Out - An American Paradox (Cover Artwork)

Strung Out

An American Paradox (2002)

Fat Wreck Chords

Let me start this review by saying that I find it truly unfortunate that I am able to review this record almost a full month before its official release date. Once again, someone was irresponsible with a promo copy, and once again the band paid the price via the internet. While I am, and probably will always be, a big fan of online music, it's hardworking bands like Strung Out that actually have a case against it. Even though they have already supplied two full MP3's (Cult of the Subterranean and Alien Amplifier) and snippets of two other songs in their website's flash intro (Unkoil and the title track,) their ravenous fans decided that just wasn't enough, and capitalized on someone's foolish decision to post the album online.... for the second straight release. (You may remember The Element of Sonic Defiance coming out online somewhere around a month before IT's release date.)

On to the record. AAP is Strung Out's 7th release (including Skinny Years and all EPs.) This collection of 13 songs plays something like a greatest hits, representing the styles and sounds from each era of Strung Out's high octane career, along with covering some new territory. Highlights include the opener, "Velvet Alley", which is extremely up-tempo and reminded me of something from Suburban Teenage Wastelend Blues the band's 1996 release. "Alien Amplifier" is delighfully poppy, utilizing a Moog a la Reggie and the Full Effect. My favorite section of this record was track 6 through track 8, "The Kids," "Unkoil," and "Contender." "Kids" is another SO classic, up tempo and hard hitting with a SWEET guitar effect smack in the middle of the song. "Unkoil" is the heaviest effort on this record, sort of a better produced throwback to "Bring Out Your Dead," also from STWB. "Contender" reeks of No Motiv, and will be a big hit with those who were fans of the wide open harmonies and full guitar sound of "Barfly" or "Paperwalls."

Unfortunately, this record does have it's downsides. Most noticably, it lacks the slick production and amazing continuity of Element of Sonic Defiance. The album as a whole has a very out-of-place feel; while all artists evolve and progress, this record would have made more sense had it come out between STWB and Twisted by Design. The songwriting just doesn't hold up to recent efforts like EOSD and the other track from that session, "Novocaine." Think of it like NOFX releasing Ribbed immediately after Punk in Drublic or The Decline. While these are all great albums, there is definitely a forward progression involved. While AAP is a great record, it almost feels like a big step back in time for the band. Sometimes the songs even seem disjointed and random in their structure. While it would be typical for SO to come up with a track listing that made the listener feel uncomfortable or out of place (sort of an homage to the voices-in-your-head vocal tracks of previous recordings) I can't say I'm a big fan of it.

Finally, the song that they are pursuing as a single, "Cemetery," is niether the strongest song on the record, nor does it represent this record, or really anything the band has ever done before it. "Cemetery" hit me like SO's take on "Detroit Rock City;" very pseudo-sinister, probably written with the radio in mind, assuming that radio is broadcasting from the late 1980's.

Overall, I don't want it to sound like I am bashing this record. I would strongly reccommend buying it to anyone. However, having been one of those aforementioned ravenous fans of Strung Out for coming up on ten years, I was certainly taken by surprise on first listen, but then I guess it would be inappropriate of me so sit here and wait for the band to write another EOSD. If this is what they want to do, more power to them; it's important to let our favorite artists have creative freedom.