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Friday, August 05, 2011

Anberlin -- New Surrender

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8/10
What do you do when you've finally reached your potential and released the most rocking, best possible record you can create? Sign to a major label of course. That's exactly what Anberlin did, and for a band that always tooed the line between being great and being a block of munster, this was terrifying. Would the major labels demands for hits bring out Anberlin's worst qualities? How did all this pan out? Pretty good, actually.
Instead of ditching the more rocking sound they discovered on Cities, Anberlin run with that sound, and decide that since they are now a big-time band, they should probably save the world. This leads to some of the most ambitious songs and lyrics Anberlin have ever attempted, and it often pays off.
After opening the album with the rollicking "The Resistance," it seems like the band had a very interesting discussion. The topic of that discussion: let's make a modern update of The Outfield's "Your Love." I don't know if this actually happened, but "Breaking" is about as good an homage to that song as you're going to get. No ballads happen until track four, "Retrace," and it seems the old Anberlin cheesemonster is about to roar onto the scene, but the song takes off at the chorus as something much bigger and...epic? The lyrics are still way too sentimental, but something about the song is bigger and better than when they've tried to do such a song previously. After this song the band rock all the way to track seven, "Breathe." It is at this point that Anberlin attempt to save the world--to create a set-closing song to get people to hold lighters up to the sky and feel things (yeah, I said "to" five times in that sentence). It should be terrible, but what the heck...it works. I can finally breathe/suddenly alive/I can finally move/the world feels revived. He doesn't say the word "girl" once in the song. Nice. The next song is all inspiring, too, which is pretty obvious from the title, "Burn Out Brighter (Northern Lights)." Live/I wanna live inspired/Die/I wanna die for something higher than myself/Live and die for anyone else/The more I live, the more I see, this life's not about me. Such selflessness is antithetical to...well, pretty much all other popular music. The band is on a high at this point.

This being Anberlin, though, there is no escape from Schmaltz, and as soon as this song ends, Schmaltz attacks fiercely, resulting in two syrupy sentimental ballads about being young that should have been left in the studio. After all the loftier ambitions expressed previously, singing "Woah, oh, oh" on top of lyrics about wanting to be a teenager again just kind of suck.
The final two songs are back on point, though, the penultimate about drug addiction, and the finale a strangely comforting account of the apocalypse (the atmostpheric keys and steady drum beat work particularly well).
I have to say, I wish all major label debuts were like this one. Any problems found within are ones Anberlin have always had, not new ones brought on by studio demands. Anberlin still keep up a steady rock quotient (though not quite as high as their benchmark, Cities). And finally, the band take the new platform they are afforded to try to say bigger things than when they were only being seen by a few hundred people in dingy clubs. If anything, their often deeply buried faith is actually more out in the open on this album. They've been on the radio ever since, and if anyone should be blasting on the airwaves, it is probably Anberlin.

2008 Universal Republic Records
1. The Resistance" 3:17
2. Breaking 3:26
3. Blame Me! Blame Me! 3:09
4. Retrace 3:51
5. Feel Good Drag 3:08
6. Disappear 3:37
7. Breathe 3:35
8. Burn Out Brighter (Northern Lights) 3:34
9. Younglife 3:40
10. Haight Street 2:59
11. Soft Skeletons 4:09
12. Miserabile Visu (Ex Malo Bonum) 6:37

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