The Lawrence Arms - Metropole
Record Label: Epitaph
Release Date: January 28, 2014
It's been eight years since the world was properly acquainted with The Lawrence Arms. Though the band teased with the rowdy 2009 EP Buttsweat and Tears, vocalists Brendan Kelly and Chris McCaughan haven't been this sincerely self-reflective since 2003's The Greatest Story Ever Told, lauded by many as one of the greatest albums to be released in the genre. Oh Calcutta! steered things towards a more furiously aggressive style with alternating vocals, but now Metropole returns home.
Metropole is not only expertly written, it's incredibly sobering and honest. The album touches heavily on themes of growing old and fading out, a feeling many listeners will surely relate to. If you listened to The Greatest Story Ever Told at any point after high school, you're likely at an age when your life is starting to change around you, and wonder what you've done with yours. Kelly and McCaughan capture this emotion in stark contrast to more careless drunken anthems from past releases." Seventeener (17th and 37th)" is Kelly's personal tale of being 20 years removed from high school, where life once seemed limitless. It hasn't been for any of us who've aged, and Kelly opines on this throughout the album with reflections such as "The traffic lights blinked a million times, I blinked twice and 20 years went by" on "Metropole."
The band doesn't just touch on this theme throughout Metropole, it is embodiment of the record. In many ways, it's as much of a concept album as The Greatest Story Ever Told, only far more direct. It's rare to see a band write such poignant lyrics that resonate so specifically with the listener, without need for interpretation. When Kelly sings about his life, the impact is heavy and immediate. Perhaps this album hits me personally more than others, turning 30 and living in a stage of my life that others have since left behind. Meanwhile, I labor to figure out my path as I feel my old life fade behind me. Kelly laments on "Seventeener," "Yesterday I woke up to find the black in my beard had turned to white...dying young just didn't work, so I guess I'm dying old."
The lyrical theme never falters, even when it appears to veer off-course. "Drunk Tweets" feels out of place as a burst of bravado from Kelly until it's paired with "The YMCA Down the Street From the Clinic," which is the aftermath of the explosive posturing Kelly portrays in the previous track. If the initial confidence is putting on airs in a presentation of a persona, the aftermath is a dark moment of self-reflection. "I text and tweet and look at nudes and beat off in the dark...baby I got old, somewhere I ditched my soul." Almost everything on this record has a place. From start to finish, Metropole just makes a tremendous amount of sense, and that's without considering the music, which is phenomenal.
At first listen, Metropole is restrained version of The Lawrence Arms. The callous back and forth vocals are reduced, the pace is a bit slower, and the production a tad muted. Over time, the production and the songwriting meshes with the theme, and each song pairs with its message. "Hickey Avenue" is as boisterous as the delivery, while "Metropole" is as somber and self-aware as the content within. Still, the band is as delightfully vulgar and blunt as always, and dozens of hooks will be stuck in your head without mercy. The whole package is wonderful, with only a handful of issues along the way.
Metropole is very close to being a masterpiece, falling just short of their own standard set by The Greatest Story Ever Told. There are very few missteps ("You Are Here," for example, is sterile compared to the ambition and honesty of the rest of the record) but it firmly stands up as the band's second best work, and will surely end up as one of, if not the best release of 2014. I've experienced this record for over two months, and it gets better with each listen. The only way to consume this record is to let it consume you. There's brilliance within.
Metropole opens exactly how it ends, hinting at a bleak shortness of life. "I was born and I died, just a moment went by." You'll feel the same listening to 34 minutes of Metropole, and you might learn a few things about yourself along the way.
Great review, as I agree it is second to The Greatest Story Ever Told as far as greatness in their catalog. I hope this record meets commercial success. Luckily i live in Chicago so I get to see the Lawrence Arms every year but they are a band too good, talented and entertaining not to find a larger audience even though its later in their career. Hopefully Epitaph can help with the promotion of the album and we see the Larry Arms tour a good amount for this record. If you haven't seen them live you definitely should, especially if you can see them in Chicago.
Great review, I love this record a ton already. This is one of the only band that continues to deliver quality record after record (even with large gaps in between). For me, I put Apathy & Exhaustion and Oh Calcutta as my two favorites in their catalog. It's obviously a way different band from the first 2 LPs. I feel like I'm the only fan of theirs that isn't obsessed with Greatest Story Ever Told. I wish it hit me the way everyone says it hits them.
One of the best albums I've heard in a long time in this genre. I never heard this band before but now I can't wait to dig into their discography. Seventeener followed by Beautiful Things is so freaking good. I think the the first three songs may be the weakest but after that, it's just straight out phenomenal. Great review!
I agree with the couple of people above who say Oh Calcutta is their favourite over Greatest Story. Both good records, but Oh Calcutta's energy (not to mention their best songs, headlined by Are You There Margaret?) puts it over the top for me. I like Greatest Story but don't feel like I connect with it.