Monday, July 22, 2013

The Used - Artwork - Review

Upon first listen, Artwork was a huge disappointment to me. All the songs sounded samey, and nothing really stood out. However, I soon realized that this album is actually the most cohesive thing that Bert and co. has ever put out. It's a far cry from the wild inconsistency of In Love and Death or the haphazard genre-shifting throughout Lies for the Liars. The album is tightly held together by a static-like, droning atmosphere and whispering, ambient transitions between songs. And as it turns out, consistency is something that The Used desperately needed.

The album kicks off with the rousing lead single, "Blood on My Hands", and strangely enough it ends up being one of the weaker songs of the bunch. It proves they still have the aggression in them, but the chorus lacks a strong hook that one might expect from an opening track. However, "Empty With You" finally gets started on the right foot with an interesting guitar intro and a climactic bridge. One might realize that the technicality of the guitar and bass stand out more in this album than others. While the vocals are definitely at the front of the mix, the riffs are more complex than they've ever been, which isn't saying much, but it's a nice progression nonetheless. Not to mention the mere presence of bass is incredible. It adds a much needed thickness to the atmosphere and, unlike most post-hardcore bands, does not result in a wasted band member.

Soon comes the ballad of the group, "Kissing You Goodbye". Lyrically the album treads familiar ground, dealing with love, death, and drug addiction, but from a songwriting standpoint, this is easily the tightest ballad in their discography, sporting the somber piano that "Smother Me" wishes it had and the emphatic, desperate vocals that hearken back to "All That I've Got".

From here, there are several other highlights. "Sold My Soul" may be the catchiest song on the album, and "Watered Down" is the only other cut that comes even close to being a ballad. However, the best track, "Meant to Die" is placed late on the disk. Its driving drums and infectious chorus vaguely retell the death of the late Heath Ledger, and contain the best vocal performance on the album.

Bringing up the vocals, the screams that killed Bert's voice are sparsely found on this album, and for good reason. Previously under the false pretense that screaming equals emotion, Bert proves here that he can give a much better vocal performance without often resorting to his trademark screech.  That's not to say that this album isn't heavy, though. It's certainly heavier than Lies for the Liars, and that evidence is clearest on "The Best of Me", the hardest-hitting and worst track to be found here. It meanders just a little too long and doesn't vary enough to hold interest. This is the album's biggest dry spot, because the first half of the final six minute track, "Men Are All the Same" is a bit forgettable as well. However, the album ends on a strong note with a heavier reprise of "Kissing You Goodbye".  It's a shame that The Used abandoned this more cohesive direction in favor of silly electronica, because this is probably their strongest album overall because of it.


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