In general, an established musician’s motivation behind a side project is to stretch their legs and provide fans of their primary band with a different experience. Alkaline Trio’s Matt Skiba made no such pretensions for Babylon, his debut solo album as Matt Skiba and the Sekrets. “I’m certainly taking a big risk by doing this,” Skiba said in an interview before the album’s release. “I wanted it to be chances, and in taking those chances you may turn some people off, but it may turn a lot of people on.” Skiba has had dalliances with side projects before; but for Babylon he recruited members of other prolific punk rock acts, namely My Chemical Romance and A Fire Inside (A.F.I.), to fill out the band’s lineup.
As Skiba suggests, Babylon ventures off his familiar pop-punk genre by replicating acts from the ’80s (such as David Bowie), but the first half of the record offers odes to contemporary bands. “All Fall Down” could easily be mistaken for something off of Green Day’s Dookie. The verses are guided by three power chord combinations, while a campy chorus utilizes the ride cymbal. Oddly enough, “Luciferian Blues” sounds like an Alkaline Trio song. Meanwhile, “The End of Joy” uses a steady diet of power chords laid over ominous piano strokes, all building to an infectious yet lyrically lachrymose chorus reminiscent of My Chemical Romance. It is logical, of course, that past work influences some of this record; it’s disappointing, though, just how often this resemblance occurs.
The second half of the record signifies a stylistic paradigm shift, most notably that listeners are treated to an array of synthesizer effects, which is where Skiba gets his ’80s fill. These changes are best exemplified in “Olivia”. Skiba’s voice is treated with a heavy dose of reverberation in the chorus, and staccato-style lyrics are used in the verse, with guitar chords comparable to The Police.
When Skiba consciously attempts to reach beyond the archetypal pop-punk sphere, he produces an entertaining amalgam of The Cure and Blink-182. The fact remains, though, that the old habits that created Skiba’s initial success cross over and take the form of a crutch when trying to experiment. The lesson? Breaking out of a comfort zone is tough to do.
Essential Tracks: “Voices”, “All Fall Down”