Since the release of Goddamnit in 1998, Matt Skiba has found success in depressing teenagers worldwide through catchy and irresistible hooks. Whether it’s about drinking whiskey until dawn or being strung out on life, he’s always bordering on suicidal, but unless you were listening intently, you’d never notice. That’s where Alkaline Trio, for the past ten years now, succeeds. And with the release of their sixth album, Agony & Irony, they have yet to falter.
Continuing the glossy, pop-punk sensibilities that seemed to overload 2005’s Crimson, Agony & Irony is awash with palm muting, riff work that would please Ric Ocasek (of The Cars), and clap fills galore. There’s nothing that really advances the genre per say, but Skiba and his Chicago act have no problem with that. In fact, this album makes it quite clear they’re comfortable (and quite masterful) by staying within the boundaries. You can’t argue with that, especially when the end result is both catchy and memorable.
Album opener “Calling All Skeletons” is chock full of hooks. If the power chord sequencing doesn’t allure, then perhaps the bridge and chorus will suffice. Skiba has a knack for melody. Even if he’s discussing the same theme again and again, it’s the way he presents it that brings us back. If he’s not grabbing you during the verse, then by the bridge or chorus he’s wringing you by the neck.There’s a formula to his songs and even after acknowledging that, they still work. That’s a feat in itself. Let’s be honest, how many magic shows are intriguing once the curtain’s been pulled?
This formula carries over in every song. It’s not just Skiba’s show, either. Drummer Derek Grant moves the song along at break neck speeds, with fills that might have Travis Barker salivating. In songs “In Vein” or “I Found Away” (inarguably the most driving song on the album) Grant assembles a treadmill-like progression that sends the songs into overdrive. Bassist and co-vocalist Daniel Andriano is right behind Skiba always, carrying over some harmonies that only condition the pre-packaged hooks, as heard on songs “Do You Wanna Know?” or “Over And Out.”
Lyrically, this album finds itself with potholes. One would think that Skiba is better than such lines, “So save your breath/ you took your time/ and stashed it away/ deep down inside of a cardboard box marked “rainy day”.” He proved that with 2001’s brilliant From Here to Infirmary, when songs “Armageddon” or “Stupid Kid” were on every kid’s mixtape. On a positive note, though, it’s nice to see him tracing back to influences such as the very Cure-esque, “Love, Love, Kiss, Kiss”, mirroring all our thoughts on smarmy, candy coated romances.
What’s important to note with this sixth album is the cohesion. None of the songs feel out of place, even when the band is scaling back to the classic, more aggressive vibes, as seen here with the contagious “Ruin It.” Agony & Irony is a crowd pleaser, and while Skiba probably won’t gain too broad of a fan base with it, he certainly won’t lose any. That’s more than most bands in their genre can say nowadays.