Anberlin – Never Take Friendship Personal
Release Date: February 1, 2005
Record Label: Tooth and Nail
Anberlin’s sophomore release is magnificent. The band’s first release, Blueprints for the Black Market, caused nothing more a minor stir in the scene, but that’s about to change with their brand new full length Never Take Friendship Personal. Anberlin’s brand of up-tempo pop-rock is a serious breath of fresh air. Vocalist Stephen Christian has a high, strong voice that punches songs into high gear. His voice has a distinctive trait to it, similar to Nate’s from The Format. Every song is full of beautifully constructed melodies, hooks, and choruses that create an uplifting experience for the listener. The album’s title track “Never Take Friendship Personal” quickly defines Anberlin’s style – brisk, catchy, and inspiring. Duel guitar parts dance back and forth with each other all song long. While one plays basic chords, the other constantly weaves riffs upwards and downwards. As a result, this and other songs refuse to slip into a tiresome pattern, simply because there’s so much going on. The song structure is fairly basic, but it is made up for with Stephen’s graceful and confident voice.
The second track, “Paperthin Hymn”, begins with a climbing guitar riff that sinks into a cautious verse in which bouncy bass lines and quiet guitars provide a solemn background for tranquil vocals. The song switches gears quickly into an uplifting chorus in where everything just feels…heavenly. Emotions rise as Stephen cries “Who’s going to call on Sunday morning?” This instantly catchy chorus defines Anberlin as not just a feel good band, but as one that invokes deeper emotions. The CD follows suit with another extremely catchy song, “Stationary.” Anberlin’s combination of guitar licks and vocal hooks pervades the mind and will not let go.
The awe-inspiring “Symphony of Blasé” follows. Breathtaking vocals and creative guitar parts make this song have a unique flow. As all instruments drop out during the chorus, Stephen’s voice is truly showcased. High notes are hit while the lyrics of a “last goodbye” are delicately delivered. A bridge is followed by violin strings being plucked. As these are incorporated into the following chorus, I simply lost it. “Symphony of Blasé” gave me goose bumps and stirred up more emotion in my mind than any other song has in a long time. It’s an astounding song that stands apart from the others.
Without missing a beat, the album launches into my favorite track, “A Day Late.” This song has hands down the catchiest chorus I’ve heard in quite some time. A simple vocal line is belted out by Stephen which is then followed by group vocal cries. The song soars forward as each verse has guitar parts that lift the song into the stratosphere. The album proceeds in similar fashion with the following track “The Runaways,” complete with another mind blowing chorus. Thick, dark bass lines are isolated during the beginning part of the verse, until dual guitars join. This time, Stephen’s voice flies above the low, dark chords played by the guitars until he joins them in the second half of the chorus. The result creates yet another mind-bending hook. At this point, my mind was on overload because every single song on this record can and will get stuck in your head.
“The Feel Good Drag” incorporates some heavy distortion effects into the darkest song on the record. The lyrics speak of the Devil as the Stephen screams for the first time on the record. Dark solos and crunching rhythms overlap into “Audrey, Start the Revolution”. This song has a crazy counter balance to it in which a really sinister verse than somehow manages to perfectly flow into the most uplifting, happy chorus on the record. Anberlin nails the transition and it works. The album loses a bit of it’s momentum with an interlude track before the final song, but it doesn’t detract from the listening experience.
Anberlin has created an outstanding pop-rock record. Yes, most of the songs follow the same basic format. No, it’s not incredibly challenging music, nor is it ground-breaking. But does it matter? Not in the least. A band does not have to re-create their sound or genre in order to be deemed good. While the band’s sound is completely refreshing, it is certainly nothing significantly different than other bands out there. Anberlin really hasn’t even changed their sound much from their earlier release. This album is just harder, faster, and better written. The sequencing of tracks creates a perfect flow for the listener, complete with highs and lows. The production is also stellar, as is to be expected from Aaron Sprinkle. The vocals are always crystal clear but are never overpowering. The only concern I have is whether or not this album will have lasting value. Often what gets stuck in your mind quickly is likely to get old just as fast. But I believe that these songs are written so well that once the choruses fade, the listener can find beauty in the musicianship. Never Take Friendship Personal is already one of the year’s best albums solely because of the band’s ability to construct such beautiful songs with euphoric vocals.