Ladies and gentleman, Chicago natives Rise Against have finally avenged the creation and subsequent release of 2004's near-miss Siren Song of the Counter Culture with this week's drop: Appeal to Reason.
It's kind of hard to put my thumb on exactly what gives this album perfect timing. It's not a direct response to SSOTCC like 2006's The Sufferer and the Witness, which was spectacular in it's own right and instrumental in positioning RA as the new reigning punk rock champions. But it's not exactly a step deeper into the existing boundaries of mainstream pop-sensible music. It's more of a statement that defines new boundaries for the norm of the music scene; it's an album so confident and brimming with emotion that even the most outspoken punk rock skeptics can't ignore.
The one thing that's clear: this bands revolves around Tim McIlrath's overpowering vocals and ideologies. Don't get me wrong; Joe Principe's bass guitar has been a significant factor in the success of this band. There's a lot to be said for the rest of the band, too (even though the other spots have been revolving doors over the band's nine-year career). But McIlrath is the life-force.
Reviews of ATR have generously likened RA to a more generation-conscious Bad Religion, which I find to be a satisfying comparison. I just have a few comments on this; for one, the lyrics are socially-charged and active (a Bad Religion recipe for success), in high contrast to the blatant finger-pointing of 90s political punkers like NoFX and Anti-Flag. The vocals are a major driving factor for both bands, and the songs are chock-full of poppy hooks and anthematic choruses. But the real diverting factor between these two bands: Bad Religion's music is formulaic, static, and has withstood the test of time, while Rise Against continues to prod into unknown territory, thrusting themselves forward through the preconceptions that surround punk rock.
This band is not afraid to push the limits. Five full-lengths through, I doubt they've even reached their halfway point.
So why the comparison to SSOTCC? Well, for one, ATR just feels like the production quality is eliminating some of the rawness of previous recordings. SSOTCC was afraid to go there, and you could hear it. Somehow, TSATW was catalyst enough to show RA what needed to be done before they could make their unique punk style work for them in the studio without directly selling the rawness and energy of the live show. Rather, they're selling quality, precision, and evolution in this recording and saving the live show for the real fans.
They had to go and do a radio-friendly single -- "Re-Education (Through Labor)" -- just to piss me off. The video (which was apparently filmed in the basement of the Chicago-favorite Congress Theater) captures the band's determination perfectly. I wanted to post it above, but apparently Universal Group doesn't like getting their shit pimped, as they've disabled embedding. Check it out here instead.
"Spin out of control / Spin out of control / Try to recover, but collide with each other / We spin out of control."
- Tim McIlrath, "Kotov Syndrome"