Artist: Rise Against
Album: Appeal to Reason
Comments: Lets get something straight right off the bat. I used to love Rise Against. Back in my young punk days, The Unraveling and Revolutions Per Minute were my bread and butter, both played so often that I burned through multiple copies of each (did you know you can break CDs by playing them too much? What a gyp, right?). These records were fast, brash, reminiscent of Bad Religion or 88 Fingers Louie on steroids, and were powerful mission statements that established the band as a group of dudes not to be fucked with (especially Revolutions, which is a personal and perennial favorite).
I even stuck around through the "Swing Life Away" years, brought on by the major label blunting of Siren Song Of The Counter Culture. Once the band released the despicable The Sufferer and The Witness, a further exercises in neutering a once raging band, I fully expected to never care about them again.
Appeal to Reason, their fifth studio album, doesn't make up for all their past transgressions and can't make me feel 16 again, but it is as good a record as the Chicago hardcore outfit has released in five years.
Rise Against's strongest tracks always occurred when the band could find quiet pop moments within their hardcore anthems. Sure, the songs were fast, loud, throaty and sometimes brutal, but they also occasionally had sharp hooks and catchy choruses that stood out just as clearly as the howling. The big problem with Siren Song and Sufferer is that they pushed to hard on the pop side of the band, not giving them a chance to stretch their legs and display their hardcore chops. Appeal to Reason doesn't make the same mistake, and the result is the best album of their major label run.
"Collapse (Post-Amerika)," besides possessing a Mr. Dogg worthy misspelling, opens the album with a gunshot. Sounding like the best song Bad Religion never wrote, the track rips with buzz saw fast guitars and the trademark vague politicking of lead dude Tim McIlrath. Not too pop heavy, the track plays like Revolutions era Rise Against. An anthem, call-to-arms that actually holds water.
Of course, this is a major label effort so the entire album can't be hardcore classic. However, unlike on past releases where the songs lacked any sort of fire or teeth, even the radio-ready cuts on Appeal could serve as a skull smashing mosh pit soundtrack. Especially spin-worthy are "The Dirt Whisperer" and "Savior," the latter of which is occasionally lyrically embarrassing, but consistently excellent regardless.
The whole thing isn't kittens and rainbows. Some tracks still have the flaccid weak major label feel. McIlrath's muse is still politics, but his words occasionally repetitious and border on self parody. And there is the profoundly stinky acoustic anti-war ballad "Hero of War," which makes "Swing Life Away" sound like an old classic. Leave the acoustic protest songs to The Nightwatchman, dudes.
With all its flaws, Appeal to Reason is still a solid record of pop-minded hardcore that I would recommends to anyone who likes screaming and raging against the machine, but still just wants a big hug at the end of the day. While the band hasn't hopped into the time machine, they've defiantly rejuvenated themselves and found some spirit. If they don't watch out, they might just come out of this mess on the other side smelling pretty as flowers.
Also, quick note to Tim McIlrath: Start screaming again, please?-Mr Dogg
Rating: 7 out of 10
Tracks: Collapse (Post-Amerika), Savior, The Dirt Whisperer
Buy, Steal, Skip: Eh......steal. But I'm not happy about it.