By: Jaime' En Fuego
Sometimes all it takes is a return to your roots to reinvigorate!
Utah's THE USED commenced their career in momentous fashion as torrid trailblazers from the turn of the century musical movement dubbed "Screamo" courtesy of industry insiders yet was a label rarely embraced by groups within the scene. They were predominantly responsible for spearheading that sound's popularity to mainstream audiences, with a big bump of help coming from cable channels like MTV, since they actually still played videos back then, coming courtesy of creatively crafted visual efforts like "Buried Myself Alive," seen in all its glory aqui: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4OIAiVIN8Ck from their Self-Titled debut record, in turn influencing a whole slew of fairly forgettable imitators that have since fallen off most listeners radars and faded into obvious obscurity. Yet after considerable critical and commercial acclaim for their first two releases, mixed reactions to their third album, the redundantly titled Lies For The Liars, possibly helped propel the decision to detour on their fourth full-length release by working for the first time without popular producer John Feldmann, who had helped fashion their sound since frontman Bert McCracken threw a demo onstage during a performance by his ska-punk act Goldfinger during a 2001 show.
The results were considered often uneven at best but not deserving of the shellacking certain disappointed critics and fans still keeping their fingers firmly crossed for the return of the 'lightning in a bottle' of THE USED's debut branded it with, most surprising being vocalist Bert himself who proclaimed in hindsight to Alternative Press a few years later that: "My last record, Artwork, is my least-favorite record I’ve made." That assessment tied in less with the production work from multi-platinum producer Matt Squire brought on to helm the album, who's worked recently with current Pop-tarts like the Biebzer's ex Selena Gomez, KE-Dollar $ign-HA! and 'Boy Band Version 3.0' One Direction, and moreso with the darkness that purveys the proceedings throughout. The issues were certainly not for a lack of inspiration or heaviness for that matter, with many moments on par with the band's fiercest offerings along the lines of "A Box Full Of Sharp Objects," but that for every previous release from the band where emotions were always carefully balanced between the uplifting and the gut-wrenching, subject-wise this effort was entirely depressing from the lyrical demon exorcism going down. That doesn't detract from the fact that there are some moments of pure brilliance in play from the mournful melancholy of the ballad "Kissing You Goodbye," Quinn's earthquake fleet-fingered flair on "Sold My Soul," the hush-thrash back and forth brutality of "The Best Of Me," as heard here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m-aTtSxXZSQ, not just the album's top track but one of the best in their career which could also almost be considered a continuation to the scorching start-stop dynamics of In Love And Death's "Sound Effects And Overdramatics," and of course the utterly EPIC album closer "Men Are All The Same," which for the first time in THE USED's record repertoire brings a cohesive, progressive feel to the finale by dabbling back into melodies from tracks earlier on, notably returning "Kissing You Goodbye's" catchy chorus, during the building bridge as the song concludes. The massive merit of these terrific tracks holds hope that they do not disappear completely from the band's live setlist where they will not have to dominate and instead sporadically populate.
So despite the overlooked awesomeness of a handful of cuts on THE USED's first foray into utilizing another producer's prowess for 2009's Artwork, it's safe to say that hardcore fans were ecstatic to hear of their return to working with long-time collaborator Señor Feldmann once again for their first effort after departing, Warner Brothers' Reprise Records, the only label they'd known since first getting signed to a record deal. It was a severing of ties amusingly described by Bert in 2011, again to Alternative Press, as: "It’s kind of like one of those situations where you’ve been waiting to break up with your girlfriend so long, and then she’s like, 'We need to break up.' So you’re like, 'Fuuuuck, that’s not fair.' [Laughs.] 'I was about to break up with you!' While there's a great deal to declare about a new insight bringing that fresh perspective to the forefront, there is also the flipside fact that it's often far easier to be more experimental and expansive in a comfortable setting which is what Feldmann has consistently brought to the table and was crucial for the group's inaugural release as independent artists, an approach of using a record company purely for worldwide distribution purposes while handling everything else themselves that more and more established acts from Radiohead to Nine Inch Nails and Pearl Jam have been able to accomplish in this new digital age. Last year's Vulnerable is the results from revisiting their roots and stands as without a doubt the most ambitious album in THE USED's entire decade plus career, boasting the hooks every dedicated devotee knows are constantly consistent, yet musically it's a smattering of everything from urgent punk and heavy-hitting rock to expansive electro drum & bass segues. Two early heavy hitters are "This Fire" which opens with a string section reminiscent of "The Bird And The Worm" before blasting into an absolute assault of Quinn Allman's guitars for the chorus and second single "Hands And Faces" which ups the ante as one of the most impressively produced features spanning the gamut from Bert sounding almost villainously robotic from his heavily processed verse vocals to a totally tripped out hypnotic breakdown halfway before full-on rock returns like a swift punch to the face. The halfway point hits with "Now That You're Dead," simultaneously the album's eeriest and most brutal effort courtesy of a haunting spoken word intro by a borderline catatonic woman declaring: "My brain's held in the grip of a giant vice, Floating higher and higher, A wonderful feeling..." before rhythm section of Dan Whitesides and Jepha Howard rip into a tempo of hardcore proportions, ready to attack your ears here: http://vimeo.com/38955480. In contrast, a somber and contemplative mood settles over the last few songs with the beautifully bittersweet ballad "Getting Over You," the self-examinative lament of the building then crashing "Hurt No One" yet final track "Together Burning Bright" brings a hopeful feeling of rebirth and redemption that feels perfectly appropriate after the vast expanse of emotion displayed on an album that for listener's feels like one helluva journey as it comes to a close. With such an incredible new creation to their credit, THE USED are nowhere near the end of theirs, only beginning a new chapter.
THE USED recently released a deluxe edition of their latest record, Vulneralbe II, that includes B-Sides plus Acoustic cuts and are currently crossing the country as headliners on the Take Action Tour, an awesome venture for charity that aids the It Gets Better Project. Learn more about this crucial cause at http://www.itgetsbetter.org/