I'm always skeptical at the idea of artists reworking old songs, it's almost like the band admits that they didn't do it right the first time. With head held high and negative notions brushed aside, my faith in Illinois natives Alkaline Trio kept my mind open and positive for their eighth studio release Damnesia.
An eery piano intro, which you would completely expect from these guys, kicks off the album at the start of “Calling All Skeletons,” followed by confident acoustics and simple drum beats. The original recording of this song on 2008's Agony & Irony is fantastic, and while I was a little nervous about how the acoustic version would sound, I was very pleased with the result. These good time feelings continued with “Nose Over Tail,” a raw and in-your-face song that the trio managed to successfully transform into a light, moving piece. While the vocals still hold an air of desperation behind them, they are nowhere near as harsh as on the original release on 2000's The Alkaline Trio.
What was once an upbeat and driving song, “This Could Be Love,” off of 2003's Good Mourning, has been slowed down drastically and given an overall gloomy sound, especially in the piano and bass, to match the violent lyrics. You can really hear in this particular song how Matt Skiba's vocals have matured and become much more ominous and dark sounding. I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered that they chose to remake unbearably adorable “Every Thug Needs a Lady,” into your typical sing-a-long love song, with a somewhat folk twang in the acoustics. This song has always been a personal favorite of mine, with honest and true lyrics “Believe in what I am because it's all I have today / And tomorrow who knows where we'll be.” I am unbelievably happy with the end result of this song.
Moving away from the cute love song and onto a more creepy and morbid note, maybe it's just my sick obsession with collar bones, which is a pretty strong obsession, but I love the song “Clavicle.” The original release on 1998's Goddamnit is very messy sounding with almost too much going on including choppy harmonized vocals. The stripped down version composed for Damnesia, though very simple, sounds much cleaner and refined. Soft and delicate piano opens “The American Scream,” an extremely personal song that many can relate to. After hearing the original version of this song from 2010's This Addiction , I was left confused. The upbeat cheerful music distracted from the serious meaning of the song. The new, unplugged version is much more fitting with drums kicking in at the end for added power and drive. In my opinion, this is how the song should have been done in the first place.
A song of goodbye, “You've Got So Far To Go,” is another ode to lovers with lines like “I heard everybody's voice cut out when you spoke.” This is my favorite kind of love song, brutally honest and desperate, complete with sex appeal in lines like: “I wanna grab you by the arms and kiss you so hard / Let's do it right under the streetlight.” When this song came on I instantly began to belt it out at the top of my lungs. No shame. Album closer, and one of their best known songs, “Radio” sounds just as powerful acoustically as the version on 2000's Maybe I'll Catch Fire. Even if you aren't a trio fan, odds are you know this song. Everyone seems to recognize the guitar melody and famous lines “I wish you would take my radio to bathe with you / Plugged in and ready to fall.” A song of dying love bursting with raw emotion. This was the first song I ever heard and was all it took for me to become a dedicated Alkaline Trio lover.
Two new songs were written for this album including “Olde English 800,” a humorous ode to malt liquor. While I do enjoy this light hearted and silly tune, I feel that it doesn't really fit with the rest of the album and comes off as somewhat childish. A surprising twist on this album is a cover of the Violent Femmes “I Held Her In My Arms.” While at first I was weary of them putting a cover on this album, I really do enjoy it. While not sounding too far off from the original, it fits well with the tone of the album.
Overall, Alkaline Trio hit this one out of the park. Each song is able to separate itself from the original version, and be enjoyable for its own reasons. Be sure to check out the entire album so as not to miss out on any of the other fantastic reworkings they mastered.