If you thought AM! had sold out on New Wave (or even Searching for a Former Clarity) then you probably won't be much interested in White Crosses. It's pretty mainstream by comparison with their first two albums (my wife said it sounded like Gaslight Anthem when she first heard it) and, like New Wave, it's got Butch Vig's mark on it. But personally I think it's fair enough that a band should develop its sound. If they'd made five albums like Reinventing Axl Rose it'd be getting boring by now. That record is special because it's unique. White Crosses will probably never have quite the same sort of place in my heart, but to paraphrase AM!, even at their worst they're better than most.
The production is clean and there's little trace of the folky roots. Well, apart from on 'Bob Dylan Dream', which is one of the four bonus tracks. AM! do big riffs these days (Butch's influence, at least in part, I guess). But they do them well. Tom Gabel's always had an ear for a good melody and this record is no exception. He's still got an emotive voice even if it's lost some of its rough edges. And he's still a great lyricist, despite his continuing refusal to write rhymes.
The album gets off to a flyer with four great rock songs followed by the slower 'We're Breaking up'. The pick of that opening quartet for me is 'I Was a Teenage Anarchist', which kind of sums up why some people still love AM! (me included) and some think they're sell-outs. It tells the tale of Tom's journey from, um, teenage anarchist to, well, whatever he is now. (Major label rock band front man, I suppose.) Can't say I've made quite the same journey, but I think I know what he means when he sings 'I was a teenage anarchist, but then the scene got too edgy. It was a mob mentality. They set their rifle sights on me.' I guess I've grown up at the same pace as Tom Gabel and perhaps that's why AM! still speak to me, even though they're saying different things these days.
Album closer Bamboo Bones is a corker too. Reminds me a little of the last song on New Wave, 'The Ocean', in that's it's sort of mid-paced and moody. Like 'The Ocean' I think it'd be great live, so I'm looking forward to seeing them when they tour the UK in autumn 2010. It'll never be like it was seeing them live five or six years ago as they've got bigger and no longer tour in a beat up van called Armageddon, but they certainly are still better than most.
on the punk spectrum This album is more Gaslight Anthem than Gallows, no bad thing, I love the Gaslight Anthem as much as Gallows. I love Laura's (or was she still Tom at this point? it doesn't matter, and as an aside that's whats so brilliant about this scene, Singer in band changes name and gender associations and nobody thinks its a big deal) voice and I love these songs, they are perfectly formed examples of what is so great about American music. us Brits can do metalcore and hardcore better than anyone, but Against me do this better than anyone. This album is uplifting, nostalgic and melancholy, sometimes simultaneously. it grew on me with every listen.
This is my most played album of the last decade. It may not be the favourite of all Against Me! fans, who were there at the beginning of their career, especially those who prefer a little less Rock and a little more hardcore Punk. However for those who like to listen to bands like Gaslight Anthem, 80's Springsteen, Bouncing Souls, Hot Water Music or Alkaline Trio, this could be just what you are looking for. This is one of the few albums that my whole family seem to like and sing along with songs such as the Springsteen like "Because Of the Shame" which could have been lifted off the Born in the USA album, the Gritty " I was a teenage anarchist" or the 'Smash 'em all' of "White Crosses". I really enjoy every track on here and the bonus track "One by One", is another favourite.