Being that the Berkeley brats in Green Day appear to have fully devoted themselves to crafting mawkish anthems for disaffected mallrats, it’s tempting to ignore all the similarities between that band and Florida’s Against Me!, who may well be the only relevant punk act signed to a major label today. But frontman Tom Gabel shares wholeheartedly in Billie Joe Armstrong’s proclivity for earnest lyrical politicking, and his band has been dogged with predictable “sell out” charges with each successive album, even before they jumped to the majors. White Crosses is Against Me!‘s second release with Sire and—like its predecessor, New Wave—it’s produced by Butch Vig, the alt-rock super-producer whose credits include Nevermind and, yes, Green Day’s 21st Century Breakdown.
2007’s New Wave was an artistic and commercial breakthrough for Against Me!, the formerly stripped-down punk act, setting frontman Tom Gabel’s strident, socially aware lyrics against melodic hooks via producer Butch Vig. That relationship is revisited on White Crosses, and whaddaya know, it is possible to merrily sing along with lines like ”We were bashing our brains out on a kitchen cabinet.” B+ Download These:Anthemic I Was a Teenage Anarchist at amazon.comJoyous Suffocation at last.fm See all of this week’s reviews .
When we last heard from Against Me!, they were earning mainstream recognition for their major label debut, New Wave. They had a minor hit single in “Thrash Unreal” and even a romantic-sounding duet with Tegan of indie darlings Tegan and Sara. The production from Butch Vig toned down some of the band’s punk grit and emphasized a more expansive, rock-oriented sound.
Against Me!'s major-label debut, New Wave, was their bid into the mainstream music scene, landing them on major festival bills and earning them the praise of national magazines. It was a record with more rock polish than grit thanks to producer Butch Vig, and when longtime drummer Warren Oakes later left and was replaced by former Hot Water Music skinsman George Rebelo, it was pretty clear that their follow-up would even further mark a new chapter for the band -- a new lineup, a new energy. But what couldn't be known was just how much of a progression it would be.
No one is ever going to discuss White Crosses -- or any other record Against Me! will ever produce, for that matter -- without invoking that ugly term: sellout. As in, Did Against Me! sell out by making this record? Is this a sellout record? Does Tom Gabel still care about punk rock, or is he just a big phony sellout? Was it when Butch Vig started producing them that they sold out, or was it when Spin named New Wave the best album of 2007? Will they ever go back to their old sound, or will they keep being a bunch of sellouts? (And what about anarchy!?) It’s a precarious argument to start, one that usually gives way to overzealous fandom, pointer fingers and dubious justification, but it touches everything Against Me! does these days. They started as an aggressive folk-tinged punk band, tossing out three albums and a mess of EPs before signing to Sire, where they quickly smoothed up their sound to more clearly feature singer Tom Gabel’s impressive rock voice.
A boat-rocking work with plenty of merit in places. Alistair Lawrence 2010 After 2007’s New Wave did everything from upset to alienate a portion of their fanbase – depending which message boards you read and, more tellingly, which ones you believe – Against Me! have navigated those stormy, puritanical waters to bring us White Crosses. And while there’s been no attempt to steer a course back to the blistering folk punk of their earlier releases, it’s hard to argue that they’re not still rocking the boat.