For a journeyman punk-pop band like Alkaline Trio, who have been making melodic, angst-ridden, infectious rock since the late '90s, the band's 2013 album, My Shame Is True, is something of a revelation. Primarily, that revelation is that a band whose songcraft and musicianship might easily have plateaued by now is still bounding ever upward. To put it simply, this album is bonkers good.
It doesn't take an analytical genius to notice that Alkaline Trio have gone through two fairly distinct arcs in their career. Going from dingy Chicago basements and an, uh, trio of records in Goddammit, Maybe I'll Catch Fire and From Here To Infirmary that range from "beloved" to "positively infallible, despite the continued existence of â??Cop' and â??Enjoy Your Day'" to larger venues, glossier recordings and more recognition outside the punk scene with albums like Good Mourning, Crimson and their lone major label release that isn't as bad as you remember, Agony and Irony. That record capped the first arc, and despite major-label backing, an apparently unlimited steampunk wardrobe budget and some of Dan Andriano's best songs ever, it tanked.
Over the years, Alkaline Trio has moved away from their punk roots to explore more radio-friendly pop-punk anthems. New release My Shame Is True returns to a raw punk aesthetic that recalls the Chicago rockers’ reckless 1998 debut, Goddamnit!, but soft-hearted ballads take away from the album’s energy. Album opener “She Lied to the FBI” soars on a contagion of snotty choruses that ooze with passion and technicality from every note.
Songs. Your band can look however you want, do whatever you want and can be the gawkiest guys and girls in town but if you have songs, no-one will care. Songs will cut through all that marketing flim-flam and PR bullshit and get you stuck in the heads and hearts of fans in a way that nothing else truly can. Alkaline Trio are a band who have written consistently brilliant, zeitgeist-capturing songs across their 15 year career.
Throughout the course of Alkaline Trio’s 15-plus years of making music, the band have taken a surprising amount of risks, incorporating different production techniques, synths and myriad takes on songwriting, regardless of the finished product. Basically, they’ve never been afraid to make a bad record. But with My Shame Is True, they’ve done something much worse: They made a boring record.