In the last two weeks the distant past has been revived in rock album format with a multitude of bands choosing now to offer up new releases, including The Mars Volta, Shinedown, Alter Bridge and The Used all coming up with good efforts.

It’s been three years since The Used’s 2009 release, Artwork and another two since Lies for the Liars, but the real markers on which to compare this year’s Vulnerable would be their debut self-titled album and follow-up, In Love and Death. In those tough terms, although Vulnerable was never going to surpass them, it’s certainly clawed the band’s reputation back in the right direction. Unfortunately the pop swathes that ruined the past two attempts haven’t disappeared entirely, but the original edge is present enough to please old fans and perhaps prevent it being completely dismissed by the more discerning buff.

Their more upbeat pop songs such as Shine and Put Me Out conjure images of a pop-rock representation you might see on an American slick teen movie…

Parts of the record are distinct from their previous output if only through the addition of electro backing, such as on Hands and Faces, the beginning sounding like a Mindless Self Indulgence tribute. While a probably less welcome comparison for the “Getting over you” refrain in the song of the same name is that it’s clearly sung to the tune of Bryan Adams‘s Please Forgive me, “I can’t stop loving you.” Somewhat killing the already cringeworthy mood, for me.

Their more upbeat pop songs such as Shine and Put Me Out conjure images of a pop-rock representation you might see on an American slick teen movie – that you were only watching because the cat sat on the remote. But then, what are frantic, soaring vocals and upbeat choruses backed by loud guitars and drums for, if not for emo bands to perform?

Bert’s vocals are the selling point here.

Speaking of which, Now That You’re Dead  is one song I’d put up with the crowd of small moshing people punching each other in the pit around me to see live, just purely out of interest to see how knackered the band end up afterwards. It seems to be played on fast forward and full on. Ultimately, and fair play to them, it’s a good effort. Meanwhile, at the other end of the scale Burning Bright evokes the image of sincere fundamentalist Christians standing round a campfire holding hands and, altogether taking themselves a bit too seriously.

Ultimately, Bert’s vocals are the selling point here. Either soppy and emotional or hard and desperate, the sound is unique. His lyrics might be at times economic, but the way they’re delivered can go some way towards making up for this. Moving On doesn’t so much have ‘better’ lyrics, but at least ones that form proper sentences and follow one after the other, rather than one following the same other. However, trying to sing along to this track (or, realistically, any) should begin with a warning of causing probable throat injuries.

The Used are, in the end, a bit of fun and if the purpose of this album is to make teenagers out of breath and happy, I’d say job done.

Despite the wishy-washy duds of the record, and pop chorus formula, Bert Mckracken’s vocals sustain a vital edge to their music and keep The Used unique and, despite their lull in recent years, loved. A band like The Used are, in the end, a bit of fun and if the purpose of this album is to make teenagers out of breath and happy, I’d say job done. Certainly if I were 14 and that way inclined, I can see Bert being a long-haired, wild eyed, screaming madman to look up to. And heck, what am I saying, he was.

 

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