Having evidently lost their ability for brevity in album titling (after all, this is the band that brought you such albums as Boy, War, and Pop, not to mention Zooropa and Achtung Baby, which sounded cool even if they were more than one syllable), U2’s second consecutive exercise in forcing their fans to create an acronym to save time winds up creating an intriguing paradox. How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb (heretofore recognized as HTDAAB; pronunciation is up to you), the band’s follow-up to the runaway smash All That You Can’t Leave Behind (ATYCLB) isn’t the sweeping, grandiose musical statement you might expect from such an ambitiously-monikered album, but it does serve as a solid document of a veteran band settling into a groove after a career-salvaging maneuver in corrective steering.
HTDAAB’s central paradox lies between the impression that it exudes on the surface, with the ostentatious name, whiz-bang first single, and the band striking a typically-unimpressed rock star pose on the front jacket sleeve, and the intentions of its content, a largely introverted set of songs that focuses more on your garden-variety “small p” personal politics than your “large p” world stage International Politics. We all know Bono as the face of celebrity third-world assistance, one of the more prominent activists in a segment of the populace overwhelmed with superfluous endorsers trumping causes of the hour like “Free Albanian Writers.” (All due respect to you if you happen to be an Albanian writer that needs freeing.) HTDAAB, for the most part, keeps its crosshairs focused expressly on interpersonal relations, tipped by the liberal pronoun use in such song titles as “Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own,” “All Because Of You” and “Crumbs From Your Table.” It may take a few plays for mind to tune into the incongruities, but once you’ve adjusted, the album comes into focus.
The opening “Vertigo” is your ubiquitous first single, having penetrated every vulnerable section of atmosphere within the reach of television and radio signals. Much to this writer’s surprise, the song’s luster hasn’t faded much following the eight millionth airplay and two millionth (unendorsed big-name MP3 player) commercial. It serves no deeper purpose than to just rock your face off, and by that alone it succeeds, behind The Edge’s huge, melodic guitar runs and Bono’s swaggering salesmanship of trifling lyrics. It rocks harder than anything else on the record, though “All Because Of You” does come close. This is not to say that The Edge is relegated to the background; his piercing, chordal style lays its fingerprints all over the record, raising the album’s best song, “Miracle Drug,” to lofty proportions. The Edge’s contributions are not necessarily measured in volume but in placement, as on “Love and Peace Or Else,” where he lays down a simple bluesy lead behind Larry Mullen and Adam Clayton’s rumbling rhythm section. Bono cranks up the soul factor on “Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own” and “One Step Closer,” tempering his aggressive delivery on “Vertigo” into something more weathered and deliberate. Van Morrison he ain’t, but he does sell it a whole lot better than most.
In the end, HTDAAB doesn’t sustain the huge rock factor insinuated up front by “Vertigo,” but it does reveal a worthwhile alternative identity, almost in spite of its misidentifying first single. It will probably throw a wrench into the original expectations of most of the hundreds of thousands of people who have already purchased the album, but those who persist and allow the album to grow on them will find a fine, workmanlike album lurking beneath the bright veneer and token posturing. Only time will tell if the band reverts to their infamous risky experimentation mode, but for the moment, the “world’s biggest band” fills its role about as well as one could realistically expect.
And I will endorse the previously-alluded to MP3 player if someone will send me one. Just none of those gaudy pastels, please.
Crossed Keys – Saviors
Saviors shows the work of well-seasoned musicians finding new energy in old sounds
Philadelphia’s Crossed Keys are an interesting intersection between melodic hardcore and punk, taking an earnest approach to the sound that made its way from the underground in the late 90s and early 2000s. This relatively new outfit is the result of Kid Dynamite and Samiam in a blender- in the best way possible. The Kid Dynamite influence may be a given since Crossed Eyes features KD’s drummer Dave Wagenschutz, but the band’s pedigree also includes members of bands like Zolof the Rock & Roll Destroyer and The Curse, all backing the melancholic vocal work of frontman Joshua Alvarez (Halo of Snakes). So while Crossed Keys are somewhat new, its members have been cutting their teeth within their respective circles for years, and their new EP Saviors shows the work of well-seasoned musicians finding new energy in old sounds.
Saviors is backboned by the furious urgency and energy that Kid Dynamite showed through their history, but while Jason Shevchuk’s vocals were beautifully abrasive, Alvarez takes a more restrained, wistful approach to singing. Songs like the opening “Times of Grace” are musically up-tempo percussions and razor-sharp guitars, but are buoyed by Alvarez’s more melodic vocals. His vocals rest at a good place between Samiam’s Jason Beebout and that NYHC tone exhibited by bands like Token Entry and Grey Area. In songs like “R.J.A” and the closing title track, Crossed Keys find more success with their brand of blistering speed meets harmony- slowing down only for the kind of melancholic punk that made Samiam a noted name. While much of Saviors is built on pace, it wasn’t always this way for the band. In fact, their 2017 EP, I’m Just Happy That You’re Here, leans closer to Samiam than it does to Kid Dynamite (the song “Jeff Pelly vs. The Empire” is particularly fantastic), so there’s been an uptick of urgency with Saviors.
For fans of any of the aforementioned bands here, there is plenty to like with Crossed Keys and plenty to like in Saviors. It’s succinct, to the point, but filled with ample reflection and exploration that gives the EP depth and resonance. Any band that has found influence from Kid Dynamite is most certainly OK by us (this site is named after a KD song after all), but Crossed Keys does more than just tip their cap. This one’s a really good one, and worth your time.
Every last time: Revisiting Gameface’s “How Far Is Goodbye?”
A glorious sound of a time gone by
Southern California’s Gameface were always a band that seemed perfect just below the cusp. Their brand of pop-tinged punk was somewhere in between the melancholy driven emo of the early 1990s to what would become of radio-friendly punk bands evolving from the Jimmy Eat Worlds of the… world.
I loved this band. It was songs like “My Star” and “When You’ve Had Enough” that captured my attention. They didn’t fit in with the punk explosion of the mid-90s and had more melodic chops than those that remained in the underground with bands like Quicksand and Texas is the Reason (the latter being the most musically similar).
To this day, I count their track “How Far Is Goodbye?” as one I can listen to on any given day and still feel the same way about it as I did years ago. It’s a glorious sound of a time gone by, and Jeff Caudill, who has been the backbone of their songwriting since the beginning, has still got the chops his ilk can only dream of. There’s a tinge of melancholy that conjures up a certain sadness, a scene in a movie where the protagonist is making their exit into the distance as the scene closes. Something about the song, the sentiment, and the lyrics that always reminds of driving away while looking at the rear view mirror.
Five years ago Gameface released a new album, Now Is What Matters, an album that perfectly encapsulated their ability to write with emotion, melody, and magnetism that only a select few seem to possess. I interviewed frontman Jeff Caudill before the album came out to chat about the band, an interview I think still holds up. Caudill has been busy since then with a lot of solo material, while the band themselves have been releasing music sporadically (mostly singles) since 2014.
While their catalog is deep, there’s one song I keep coming back to, and that’s “How Far Is Goodbye?”. Originally released on the split 10″ vinyl with Errortype: 11 in 2000, the song received an update in 2018, which you can hear below.
Gameface photo from Gameface facebook page.