New Wave

New Wave is the fourth album from Florida punk rockers Against Me!. It will probably go down as their ‘sell-out’ record, in that it's their first for a major label.

New Wave is the fourth album from Florida punk rockers Against Me!. It will probably go down as their ‘sell-out’ record, in that it's their first for a major label, and features some clean, focused production work courtesy of Butch Vig.

Of course, ‘selling-out’ can often be a good thing. Judged by the same criteria, Nirvana’s Nevermind and Sonic Youth’s Dirty were also sell-out records. And indeed, it's not the major label or the clean production that drag Against Me! down; rather, it's the contribution of their vocalist Tom Gabel that tends to spoil things.

The production is classic Vig – smooth, streamlined and powerful – and this should be enough to alienate the hardcore punk element in Against Me!’s audience. This scorned bunch may legitimately argue that Gabel’s nails-on-a-blackboard voice would be more palatable/less noticeable when set against a rawer musical backdrop. But this listener would seriously struggle to envisage any context in which he might slot comfortably onto a record – the obvious exception being one where he didn’t sing.

Gabel is gravel-voiced, but we’re not talking Tom Waits here. His hoarse rasp seems to occupy a huge amount of space in the mix, making it difficult to enjoy any of the tracks on New Wave.

At least a handful of the songs could have taken flight in abler hands. ‘Thrash Unreal’ buries a pleasing sense of world-weary melancholy beneath its rock bluster, like one of Feeder’s occasional moments of excellence. ‘Piss And Vinegar’ and ‘Animal’ feature some twittering, snake-like guitar lines, which could have been the perfect accompaniment to a different, less grating vocal performance. Tegan Quinn’s guest vocals add a dollop of girlish sweetness to ‘Borne On The FM Waves Of The Heart’, but even they are unable to neutralise Mr. Gabel’s presence.

A lesson to all young bands: fret not about selling-out, but take great care not to employ a vocalist who sounds like he's passing kidney stones in the studio.

 

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