The Used - Artwork
Record Label: Reprise Records
Release Date: August 31, 2009
Still I can see it coming
While I'm standing in the river drowning
This could be my chance to break out
This could be my chance to say goodbye
-"Taste of Ink"
Whenever I think of The Used, my mind goes back in time to 2002 when we were all introduced to this band from Orem, Utah. Their debut album was epic; it was a new sound with catchy hooks and insane drumming, but it was singer Bert McCracken that truly made an impact with us. Whether it was his infamous appearance on "The Osbournes" or reading online about his infatuation with vomiting onstage during their live sets, most of the people who followed the scene found out one way or another what The Used were all about. But to me it wasn't the hype or word of mouth that got me into them, it was picking up their debut album one night from Record & Tape Traders and driving around Baltimore listening to it from "Maybe Memories" all the way to "Choke Me" and then all over again three or four more listens. I was immediately a fan, and it was because of the sound and Bert's lyrics. Since that night, no song's ever sounded more beautiful than "On My Own".
2004 brought their second album, In Love & Death, in which a fine line was drawn down the middle of The Used's fanbase. I guess a lot of people didn't get all that they desired out of that album, but there was still a significant number of loyal Used fans who stood behind them the year or so the band took to support the album. The album itself had it's own distinctive sound with songs such as "I Caught Fire" and "It's Hard to Say" taking on the rise and fall of love, and songs such as "Let it Bleed" and "I'm a Fake" displaying pure wrath and fury both musically and lyrically.
After a short break, and after the departure of drummer Branden Steineckert, The Used tapped John Feldmann for what would be the final time he would produce another Used album. Lies for the Liars was simply a washed up, almost comical album that really didn't stand a chance from Jump Street. You could only take an album so seriously when one of the tracks is called "Liar, Liar" and has a chorus that actually goes "liar liar pants on fire" several times. The band really didn't put any effort into the album and many will argue that Lies is one of Feldmann's most over-produced records, with nothing but drum loops and samples throughout each and every other song.
Fast forward to now, and The Used have seemingly gotten out of their funk and have actually delivered a promising record. I'm not saying Artwork is going to win back all of the fans this band has lost in the last four or five years, but it might just get them some fresh fans if they promote this properly. The album begins immediately with the first single, "Blood on My Hands", which channels certain elements from "Take it Away" and delivers a decent opening anthem for the album. Lyrically however, this song's a bloody mess. You can only sing about blood in a song for so long before people begin to skip to track two.
Said second track is the exact opposite of "Blood" and is entitled "Empty With You." This is one of the best written songs on the album and it delivers a lot of emotion, especially in the chorus. It's exactly how "I Caught Fire" countered "Take It Away" on In Love and Death. The next song on the album, "Born to Quit" is defintely a song that grows on you after a few listens, but I can honestly say that the same doesn't apply to "Kissing You Goodbye," and that's because it's a simple (and I mean simple) ballad with McCracken singing over a boring piano piece. Nothing against pianos, but it's slow and dull on this one here.
After the first four tracks, Artwork continues on without missing a beat. I'm not saying every song for the rest of the album's perfect, but there isn't a single bad one in the mix, beginning with "Sold My Soul." "Sold My Soul" is definitely the standout track of "Artwork"; It's got a great guitar riff, an amazing piano ending (see, I can be a fan of pianos sometimes), a very well-written chorus, and put together, it's my favorite Used song since anything off of their debut album. "Meant to Die" is a song written about Heath Ledger and the moral of it is how untimely and unpredictable death can be, and guitarist Quinn Allman really displays his fast-paced and messy guitar sound to go along with the song, fitting with the song's theme.
"The Best of Me" and "Men Are All the Same" are the final two songs on Artwork with two different concepts. "The Best of Me" is like a watered-down version of "I'm a Fake," and "Men Are All the Same" is a heavy conclusion to "Kissing You Goodbye," with McCracken singing the same chorus of that song throughout the remaining minutes of the album.
All in all, a lot's changed in the last seven years, and if you were once a Used fan, hearing this album probably won't make you a fan again. If you are a fan, you're going to like what you hear, no doubt about that. I'm happy they went with Matt Squire to produce this because it's different. Had Feldmann produced this one, I probably wouldn't have even listened to it. That's how disgusted Lies left me, and my biggest issue besides the lyrics with that album is how over-produced and horrendous it sounds quality-wise. A lot of the songs here I liked from the get-go, while others just took time to grow on me. It's just time to accept the fact that we're never going to get another Used album as amazing as their first, but I'll settle with this one to hold me over until the next album.