The Used – [Album]

Monday, 28 September 2009

As Tragically Hip singer Gord Downey once said, the problem with cutting out a living in the arts (particularly in music) is that, as soon as you subscribe to one discipline, all of the others look that much more attractive. Actors want to make music (as exemplified by Keanu Reeves, William Shatner and Juliette Lewis), musicians want to act or paint (Hugh Dillon, Iggy Pop, David Bowie, Gibby Haynes or Ronnie Hawkins anyone?), and painters (like Andy Warhol) along with writers just want to have their fingers in every pie within their immediate reach. Such is the nature of human psychology but The Used has elected to go in the more painter/writer-ly direction by stretching in every available direction on their new album, Artwork.

How well it works for a given listener depends entirely upon how permissible and open-minded they're willing to be.

First, the album cover. For what it's worth, speaking as a former arts major, the album cover concept (a twin play on words and drug references) is weak and has been done by every high school art student that ever had a drug problem. It's contrived and trite and, frankly, it's been done better by a couple of high school students – the only benefit it holds for the album is that it is eye-catching even if it causes cringes by schooled artisans.

Happily though, the music contained on the record doesn't follow the same formulaic impression. From the opening rush of “Blood On My Hands,” The Used presents itself in a totally augmented form apart from its previous four albums; fusing elements of prog, hard rock (those double-kick drums will reset your pulse) and their staple pop punk, the band pulls off a far darker and diseased strain that doesn't easily slide into any of those generic slots but still leaves the impressions of all three self-evident. Even from track one, it sounds like The Used are playing for keeps this time.

They remove all doubt when singer Bert McCracken blissfully moans “I haven't lost anything except my mind” to open “Empty With You” though. With a glossy sheen draped over a dark dystopia, The Used cement the tone of Artwork with incendiary guitar lines, ironic Eighties metal trappings and desperate demeanors than should be possible for one band on one album, but they do it here and actually use the miserable melange as a hook; not so much a dour record as a celebration of misery, The Used pull audiences along and expunge their bad vibes in such a way that it makes audiences want to cheer at even the smallest triumphs that the band (and particularly McCracken) experience here. It's a very strange line that The Used straddles on Artwork but, as woeful numbers like “On The Cross,” “Meant To Die,” “Sold My Soul” and “Empty With You” plunge headlong into and achieve all-new depths of despondency, somehow the sound is also elating because each lick is so sharp and so anthemic while every lyric seems so poignant that, as unhappy as they might be, they're also incredibly affirming – somehow.

All of that massive, tormented swirl comes barreling right into the realm of “self-evident” as the drugged delirium and brink-teetering mental terrorism of “Best Of Me” collapses into “Men Are All The Same” and leaves the fact that there's no coming back from this abyss with nowhere to hide. In the end, McCracken simply lets go and succumbs to the edge he's been hop-scotching on the whole record through and simply lets out a blood-curdling scream before the song fades away. It's a dramatic ending, but also the perfect one for this horrible psychodrama; with no loose ends left by Artwork, The Used will be able to start again fresh on the follow-up. In this case, judging a book (or album, in this case) by its cover would be unwise; Artwork isn't much to look at, but it contains career-defining music for The Used.



The Used – “Burning Down The House”


is out now. Buy it here on Amazon .

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