A boat-rocking work with plenty of merit in places.
Alistair Lawrence 2010-06-08
After 2007’s New Wave did everything from upset to alienate a portion of their fanbase – depending which message boards you read and, more tellingly, which ones you believe – Against Me! have navigated those stormy, puritanical waters to bring us White Crosses. And while there’s been no attempt to steer a course back to the blistering folk punk of their earlier releases, it’s hard to argue that they’re not still rocking the boat.
The biggest criticism that can be labelled at White Crosses is that its best two songs are its first two – a rousing anti-pro-lifer title-track that sheds its skin at the first chorus of “White crosses on the church lawn, I wanna smash them all”, followed by lead-off single I Was a Teenage Anarchist. The latter handily epitomises everything that people liked about Against Me! in the first place – a brightly intelligent polemic, only this time it’s trained on the close-minded futility of scenester punks. The fact that vocalist Tom Gabel keeps it strictly autobiographical and strangely uplifting – sounding like a rites of passage tour de force, not a grump scything those who’ve questioned his integrity – allows the band to proceed without clouding their judgement. The only mild disappointment is that the rest of the album doesn’t grab the listener by the hand and drag them to the centre of its world in quite the same way. High Pressure Low is a buzzing, claustrophobic jolt amidst too many songs that seem too content to maintain an even pace.
Like fellow soul punks The Gaslight Anthem, Against Me!’s willingness to look back threatens to have them stagnate at certain points. Ache With Me’s balladry seems ponderous rather than visceral, Rapid Decompression has urgency but nothing to distinguish it from a dozen other songs they’ve written, and as the curtain call of Bamboo Bones, with its “What God doesn’t give to you / You’ve got to go and get for yourself” refrain, comes down it’s hard not to regard White Crosses as a work with plenty of merit in places, but frustratingly unrewarding at times, too.