Alkaline Trio – ‘Is This Thing Cursed?’

By Gem Rogers

Death, darkness and despair. Since their beginnings in 1996 (yup, it’s really been that long), Alkaline Trio have carved stories of angst, haunting sorrow and failures. Though their punk rock early sound gradually mellowed over the years – who could forget their dramatic turn to the glossy, pop punk side with 2005’s ‘Crimson’? – that edge has always remained, with the unforgettable and unique vocal combination of Matt Skiba and Dan Andriano.

It’s a sound that many Trio fans may have wondered if they’d ever hear again. With Skiba seemingly defecting full time to You-Know-Who, and both Andriano and drummer Derek Grant keeping busy with their own solo projects, things had been quiet for years – until, that is, a US tour announcement in June, followed by the surprise drop of new single ‘Blackbird’ in July.

Five years is a long time to be away – So where does the Chicago band’s first album since 2013’s ‘My Shame Is True’ take us, and can they reclaim their horror punk crown?

Title track ‘Is This Thing Cursed?’ doesn’t provide the most abrupt of starts, choosing instead to waltz in on a mellow piano and Andriano’s relaxed tones. A song that feels a little bit Trio-by-numbers in places, it’s nonetheless dripping in the big choruses and hooks the band have become known for. The album maintains the slick production of previous releases, yet as dark lead single ‘Blackbird’ is followed by jangly and poppy ‘Demon and Division’, before diving immediately into the outrageously fun and punky ‘Little Help’, a feeling is generated that was absent from the likes of ‘This Addiction’ and ‘My Shame Is True’. It’s hard to pinpoint; but what’s immediately clear is that life has been injected back into a band who couldn’t previously quite recapture the heights of the first half of their career.

There’s something to please all Trio fans in the thirteen tracks presented on ‘Is This Thing Cursed?’. From the fun, 80s pop style ‘Sweet Vampires’ – marred only a little by some slightly clumsy lyrics – to the quick hit, thoroughly enjoyable punk of ‘Little Help’ and ‘Pale Blue Ribbon’. There’s real familiarity to this sound and a few moments evoke strong memories of eras past; the staccato guitar of ‘I Can’t Believe’ is truly classic Trio.

A more even split of lead vocals from Andriano and Skiba is also intensely satisfying. Andriano’s gritty, warm tones accompany emotion-filled and deeply human lyrics; ‘Stay’ is a particular highlight, a heartrendingly beautiful, stripped back track with a big chorus and a subtle tie to an earlier Trio song – “let’s try to crawl out from under our breath / we can never break up, so I’ll love you to death”.

This is the kind of album that presents highlight after highlight, and the final four tracks are a shining example of this. If you think you’ve landed on the best song when Skiba’s silky vocals tell a tale of drugs, death and woe on ‘Heart Attacks’, give it a minute – there’s more coming. Penultimate track ‘Throw Me To The Lions’ will also throw you back to Alkaline Trio circa 2003, before merrily dropping you off into the acoustic, singalong-worthy ‘Krystalline’.  A classic love song overlaid with a few vocal and electronic effects to add a sinister edge, these build after the final chorus into an altogether unsettling finish. Maybe this thing really is cursed… and it’s worth a warning that it may not be a good idea to listen late at night when you’re dropping off to sleep. Unless you enjoy crippling fear and night terrors.

This album is not what you might expect. It is everything that Alkaline Trio once were, and everything they now are, brought together in a beautifully crafted blend to create not only one of their best releases in recent memory, but one of their best ever. ‘Is This Thing Cursed?’ is exciting, invigorating, and well worth every moment of the five year wait.


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