The Used – ‘Heartwork’

By Dave Stewart

If you were a fan of post-hardcore and emo back in its heyday and The Used weren’t included in your regular rotation of bands, you were doing it wrong. A vital component in the genre’s popularity surge and one of the early breakthrough acts of the movement, the Utah quartet set an early benchmark for their peers with both their songwriting and live performances, cramming masses of energy and emotion into the music and explosively unleashing it onstage.

Much like the friendly German caterpillar in A Bug’s Life, they’ve undergone quite the transformation over the years whilst still staying true to themselves, slowly evolving from emo heroes into rock giants. Their stunning analogue recorded 2017 album ‘The Canyon’ made its way onto numerous of album of the year lists, with their commitment to growth continually encouraging fans to swarm around them. Brand new record ‘Heartwork’ sees their early sound burst back through the door, spreading themselves throughout the songs to create an album that sounds both fresh and ever so familiar.

That familiar sound shows its face right from the off as soon as ‘Paradise Lost, a poem by John Milton’ begins. Gigantic walls of guitars kick you directly in the teeth, while lead vocalist Bert McCracken slows things down, makes sure you’re OK, and then joins the rest of the band in kicking you again. The chorus melody instantly sinks into your brain, the energy is contagious, and they’ve perfectly summed up what to expect going forwards.

‘Blow Me’ is another slice of nostalgic gold, rife with the classic grit you’d have experienced early in their career. The addition of guest vocals from Fever 333’s Jason Aalon Butler spices things up nicely, placing a thick layer of aggression on top of the already chaotic foundation. ‘Gravity’s Rainbow’ sounds like a cut from ‘Lies For The Liars’, sewing indulgent strings into the fabric to create a warm and weighty delight. ‘Obvious Blasé’ is like a modern day ‘The Taste Of Ink’, and with a little added help from the legendary Travis Barker it utilises a very familiar sounding verse and dangerous eruption of a chorus that’s sure to get live crowds leaping for the sky.

There are a few places where they blend the old with the new with amazing results, showing just how firm their grasp on songwriting has become. ‘1984 (Infinite Jest)’ is dark and brooding for the most part, skulking in and out of haunting passages before McCracken briefly lightens the mood with some hymn-like melodies. ‘Wow, I Hate This Song’ melds some of the most serene instrumentation with some of the hardest hitting in a Jekyll and Hyde sort of setting, jumping from heartfelt honesty to unsettling madness without warning. There’s even an electronically-driven monster in ‘Cathedral Bell’, smothering delectable vocal hooks over pulsing bass and understated drums in a stunning way.

With other surprises like huge pop track ‘The Lighthouse’ featuring Barker’s partner in crime Mark Hoppus, their heaviest track to date ‘The Lottery’ with a furious guest vocal from Beartooth’s Caleb Shomo, irresistibly funky electro vibes and bassist Jeph Howard’s groovy licks in ‘Clean Cut Heals’, and even a bit of hard-hitting spoken word on the title track, it all blends together to create a no holds barred eclectic record. There’s so much variety here and some of it sounds genuinely mental at times, but that’s what they do best. They make madness sound normal.

If this really is your first experience of The Used, it’s a total mystery how you’ve managed to go this long without a taste, but you will undoubtably be left with a deep rumble in your stomach and a craving for more. If you’re not a stranger to them, however, all of the flavours will come flooding back more powerful than ever. The creativity enclosed within this record is a living and breathing entity, emptying endless breaths of fresh air into your lungs as you deeply inhale every last drop.

‘Heartwork’ is a nostalgia-fest intricately woven with modern sensibilities, blending both eras of the band’s sound into one big and bold package. It’s raw and fast in some places, elegant and meditative in others, and occasionally downright bonkers. To put it simply, it’s a truly wonderful piece of art that expertly showcases everything this band is and ever was. The world might be on lockdown right now, but this album will take your head to a place where lockdowns don’t exist – a place full of sunshine, friends, and all the best memories from the good old days. Who doesn’t want that?

DAVE STEWART

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