This is a band I admittedly don’t care about. The last time I listened to the majority of an Against Me! - I’m sorry - Rise Against album was in the backseat of my friend’s Jetta; and I couldn’t help but notice the irony of two middle-class suburban kids decked out in foreign made clothes semi-listening to some angry, progressive rock music. I think that experience aptly sums up the average listener: they like the music, but are generally oblivious to the message beyond some vague sense of “injustice sucks dude!” I mean, the kids who the lyrics actually speak to are generally way beyond listening to anything so ‘mainstream,’ and I’ve found that there is a huge disconnect between what the audience for the band should be, and what it actually is. With that said, I kind of dug this album. The tracks are fairly polished, which will undoubtedly be a drawback for many fans, but I think it adds some accessibility and general pop-awareness that was previously missing. This album reminds me in many ways of Against Me!’s breakthrough album, New Wave, the album that thrust the band into the mainstream and saw the group embrace more pop elements into their soundscape. And while many longtime fans hated Against Me! for partially abandoning their punk roots, many listeners (me being one of them) thoroughly enjoyed the new sound and direction. Same thing here. Songs about global politics, injustice, and the general shittiness associated with modern society are all intact, but so is a more conscious attempt to arrange songs in new and exciting ways. This results in discernible distinctions between tracks (which is more than I can say for most new Indie releases, I’m looking at you Best Coast), although the second half finds the band falling back into the same routine.
This album definitely draws from the zeitgeist of America being a falling super-power and many songs explicitly deal with the end of the American empire. In fact, “Survivor Guilt” begins with a brief exchange about the failing of the U.S. and would probably best serve as an introduction to the album. Endgame begins to wear thin around this point however; and while the songs themselves are still individually unique within the world of their established sound, it becomes difficult to sit through songs like “Broken Mirrors” and “Wait for Me” simply because of their repetition. Also, the signature combination of earnestness and sincerity gets pretty old. I wish the band would, at least for a few songs, sing about something different. At multiple times I felt like I would be much more into this CD if there was just one song that was totally removed from any of the previous ones. Mainly though, the music rocks. And I say that seriously. I find that a lot of ‘rock’ music lacks the ability to actually get my heart rate up or include guitar riffs/solos that I remember beyond the first listen. That isn’t the case here; the music is fast-paced, fairly creative, and compliments Tim McIlrath’s unique voice. Oddly enough, and this is something I’ve found with all Rise Against songs, the choruses are very sing-along friendly. I can’t help but imagine this band playing huge arenas because of their inviting harmonies, and I hope this album moves the band closer to that.
In the end, I actually found myself partaking in what bothered me so much about every Rise Against fan I’ve met. I was pumping my fist along with the music and focused my energy towards some vague feeling of angst and wrongdoing, pretty much ignoring the majority the song’s lyrics. But I guess that’s their thing. This band is so good at getting you amped up, that only upon listening to the album a second time do the deeper song meanings come to the surface because you aren’t so distracted by the band’s energy. This is a good thing, and I retract my previous judgments about fans of this band. Although this sound still isn’t my cup-of-tea, it has enough rock, and now pop, sensibilities for most to enjoy. And while the album lulls right after the midway point, it ends on a high note. As much as the band probably intended for this album to be consumed as one piece, I would recommend downloading the following and not worrying about skipping the rest: “Architects,” “Help Is On the Way,” “Make it Stop,” “Midnight Hands,” and the 90’s bass totin’ “Endgame.”