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Against Me! “White Crosses” Review

Published in Blog Archive, Culture Bully. Tags: , .

Not only was New Wave Against Me!’s major label debut (Sire), but it stands as both the most commercially and critically successful album in the band’s career. The 10 song set was produced by Butch Vig (Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, Green Day), debuted at the #57 spot on the Billboard 200, and would eventually be named the best album of 2007 by Spin Magazine. Refusing to break the mold with the band’s full-length follow-up, White Crosses, Against Me! once again enlisted Vig to man the boards for the release. Actually, the only considerable change in the recording—again to be released via Sire, again running 10 songs deep—is the absence of drummer Warren Oakes, who was replaced by George Rebelo (Hot Water Music) following his departure from the band last June. With that exception White Crosses does little to disrupt both the sound and the direction that the band took with New Wave; that being polished folk-punk, just as primed and ready for mainstream rock radio as it is the next generation of angry, distraught youth.

The album’s title track kicks things off with a plodding rhythm that courses over Tom Gabel’s passionate lyrics. Touching on a common theme which runs throughout White Crosses, Gabel repeats “White crosses on the church lawn, I want to smash them all” during the song’s chorus, a refrain which embodies a lot of the anger and confusion that is revealed over the following nine tracks. “I Was a Teenage Anarchist” continues with the feeling of “Crosses” as it lyrically sets forth the symptoms of becoming increasingly jaded and detached as the illusion of one’s beliefs becomes shattered through age.

“Because of the Shame” recalls a story of a broken relationship, set over a rolling piano line that deeply accentuates the rumbling guitar which drifts above it. The lost love theme is renewed later in “We’re Breaking Up”; both songs resigned to the idea that once there is love, neither death nor a torn relationship can completely erase it.

Perhaps it’s neither the irate nor the heartbreaking, but rather something found in between that is the most representative song of the album however. Musically “Spanish Moss” finds a happy medium amongst the songs on White Crosses as it is neither dull nor does it overwhelm sonically. It might be White Crosses‘ most accessible track, in terms of its mainstream rock sound, but the real hook lies within Gabel’s lyrics. “Let your mind conjure up old ghosts. Ride you bike through lost Florida streets. Everything we’ve said and done, can be so easily forgotten. You can always change who you are.” Here he projects a sense of hope that is woven throughout the entire record—though it’s not showcased as bluntly as it is here—while refusing to release a firm grip on the understanding of the darkness that reality often exudes.

While it’s quite clear that this was never the intent, just as with “Spanish Moss” White Crosses is far from groundbreaking. It doesn’t push boundaries musically or lyrically, and at 35 minutes it’s almost over before it’s had time to soak in. And if you’ve heard Against Me! before you shouldn’t be surprised by anything anything on the record—that’s not to say that it’s a weak release, however. Far from it, in fact. As with the band’s past efforts, White Crosses is as grounded in a strong sense of the blue-collar rock patriarchs of days gone by as it is in an honest lyrical reflection of the realities of every day life. Touching on love, death, and religion, thematically White Crosses is ultimately about learning to live each day without losing faith in yourself or those around you. Accompanying the heartfelt stories is a soundtrack perfect for approaching such a struggle.