Subsequent years found the band rising in popularity, and progressing to bigger labels. Their 2003 move to Fat Wreck Chords gave rise to the ire of some of their fans (despite Fat being an independent label), who were even more incensed by the band’s 2006 contract with Sire. Even so, the first album to result from that merger, New Wave was a critical and commercial success, and caught the notice of mainstream press and commercial charts alike.
2010 finds the band releasing White Crosses, their second album both with Sire records and with legendary producer Butch Vig, and it’s musically their most complex album yet. Whether that’s a good thing or not is subject to debate.
A Logical, If Uncomfortable Progression
White Crosses exhibits the most polish of any previous release, including New Wave; it’s really a logical progression from New Wave, but in sacrificing their grittiness in favor of musical ability and big sounds, they seem to have truly begun to lose what marked their early appeal. That doesn’t mean it’s bad; it’s quite good, with rolling melodies and solid production. But is that what Against Me! is about? Maybe not in the past, but it is now.
Under the influence of Vig, Against Me! has conspired to make a rock record this time out, and along the way draw from serious blue-collar influences adds a marked amount of real indie rock and then mixes in various bits to ensure, if anything, that the record is not monotonous. “Because Of The Shame” takes an underlying sound that’s purely Against Me! but mixed with piano, “Ache With Me’ is twangy, acoustic and dreamy at the same time, “High Pressure” mixes old modern rock influnces with a solid pop riff, and “Suffocation” sounds like a tune from a classic rock radio station. It’s a bit schizophrenic, and while it breaks away from the band’s past, it’s quite fun.
The album does hit some peaks with some great punk rock, too. “Spanish Moss” is stuffed with upbeat, albeit polished punk, “Bamboo Bones” rocks hard with off-kilter riffs, and the record reaches its top with “Rapid Decompression,” a fast reel with a Sex Pistols-laced guitar line and frontman Tom Gabel brandishes a hard-hitting slap across the face, replete with an upstretched middle finger. That song is worth the price of the record alone.
The political slant of the band has not disappeared, though. The title track refers to the white crosses that some churches display on their lawns in silent protest of abortion, and Gabel states his position on the the issue by expressing a desire to “smash them all.” “I Was a Teenage Anarchist” refers to the disillusionment of growing up, and recognizes the political slant of Against Me!’s earlier work, along with the realization that “the politics were too convenient.”
At it’s soul, White Crosses is an excellent album, but it’s not necessarily the best record for a longtime fan of the band. It definitely marks a progression for Against Me! - a departure from the grit of their past to the polish of their present. They continue to be more listenable and accessible which, while bringing their name to more and bigger audiences, does alienate some of their past fans. It’s not a bad record, but it’s not their best, and I add my name to the list of folks who really hope to hear Against Me! reinvent Axl Rose just one more time.
Release Date: June 8, 2010