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.