The Used – Artworkby Yusuf Laher / 02.10.2009
The Used are so into letting go, Artwork’s even got a song about letting go of letting go (and one about never letting go). After all these years, trends have come and gone but, somehow, The Used have stuck around. It’s all about uncensored, unfiltered, teenage emotion: letting go, losing your mind, exorcising your demons and saying goodbye (over and over again).
The Used aren’t the kind of band that know what’s going on in the world around them, just what’s rolling around in frontman Bert McCracken’s cobweb-stained head. And naturally, a lot of people aren’t down with that. Most adult music fans have long since rolled up their sleeves and given up on their dreams. Worryingly, Bert’s 27 this year and facing his own “death of the adolescence.” Don’t worry girls, he’s died so many times in song (and in his head) I’m sure he’ll be just fine.
Artwork’s the first Used album not produced by Goldfinger’s John Feldmann since their 2002, self-titled debut. And sonically, it’s an overdue return to the more stripped down, less baroque, more guitar driven sound of their formative years. Obviously, it’s not as raw as their debut, but then again, neither’s sushi.
Over-claiming album covers always make me laugh. The sticker on the front, strategically placed to obscure the needle (Art) piercing the wrist (Work), is full of choice quotes. “10 out of 10… Possibly the best album you will hear this year,” wrote Outburn Magazine. “The Used have delivered not only the definitive album of their career, but arguably one of the best records you’ll hear in 2009,” claims Alternative Press. Yeah, maybe if you listened to nothing else. Naturally, the sticker doesn’t mention “Annoying – or, worse, conventional” (Rolling Stone) and “Turgid, even for the genre” (Spin).
While Artwork’s definitely not the best album I’ve heard all year, it’s not a bad pop record. In fact, it’s actually pretty good (if you like The Used. If not, you’ll hate it just as much as usual). Musically, they’ve taken the breakout, basement sound of their debut and added the kind of refinement you’d expect after eight years of popular music. But often, the songs come across a little too slick: intro, verse, chorus, chorus, chorus – catchy fucking single. Especially lead single “Blood On My Hands.” But the riffs are banging, the melodies are soaring and the lyrics say a whole lot without ever really saying anything. According to McCracken, Artwork’s a concept album about hating yourself.
For my money, The Used have been chasing their debut for seven years now. Nothing they’ve released since then has packed the same kind of searingly memorable, intense sincerity. They’ve written some good songs and Lies For the Liars was a strong third album, but they’ve never quite recaptured the impossible-to-ignore impact of tracks like: “Buried Alive,” “Taste of Ink” and “Box Full of Sharp Objects.” “Empty With You” and “Watered Down” (on Artwork) come pretty close.