The Used return to form with ‘Vulnerable’
Proponents of the band will cite their passion, zeal to create music, and ability to create a sound that is solely theirs as reasons to love them. Opponents will likely state that they’re emo dudes in tight jeans who aren’t worth listening to. But despite their divisive history with the music-listening populace, their latest effort, Vulnerable, may just be the ticket they need to dive into the hearts of post-hardcore fans worldwide.
Not that they’ve had an unsuccessful career thus far. Popularity is not something The Used has struggled with. Since their self-titled debut in 2002, the band has toured the world, been signed to Warner Bros. records, been gold- and platinum-certified in six countries, and as of 2008 they had sold more than three million records worldwide. No, coming into their fifth studio album these guys had established that they are a legitimate musical force.
However, with Vulnerable the band was up against strong criticism. Many felt that 2007’s Lies for the Liars was over-produced, and the band’s last album, Artwork, was widely believed to be their weakest album to date. The band increased their fan base with both efforts, but core listeners were starting to lose interest. The band had something to prove.
After leaving their major label, creating a label of their own with Anger Music Group, and signing a distribution deal with Hopeless Records, the band was finally ready to silence doubters by unleashing Vulnerable. The band starts strong with their first single, “I Come Alive.” The song features eerie keyboards that have become a signature part of the band’s sound, while branching out with their sampling into new wave electronic sounds. The song has a strong chorus and time signature changes that keep the listener guessing.
Track two is a surprise right out of the gate. “This Fire” features strings, and not the creepy strings you might expect, given past tracks such as “The Bird and the Worm.” No, these are the kind of strings that sound at home on a Panic! at the Disco song. While this may make some early believers of the band question if they’ve sold out, the song features a strong chorus harkening back to something you’d hear on one of their earlier albums.
“Hands and Faces” is a divisive track. While the chorus is fun and catchy, the verses have sampling that stylistically borders on dubstep. Not entirely, mind you– there are no flatulent breakdowns to be heard. But the sound definitely smacks of Skrillex, and it makes you wonder if the band is buying into current trends. However, the dark tone of the song still works for the band, and doesn’t sound too out of place.
“Put Me Out” is simultaneously strange, and completely wonderful. The intro borders on biker metal. If you heard this track playing on “Sons of Anarchy,” you wouldn’t bat an eyelash. It makes for a fun departure for the band while somehow still fitting into their overall sound. The choruses are fun and defiant, and beg for a live performance.
“Shine” is an important track for the band. Given the depressing lyrical content and dark sound of Artwork, the band was understandably eager to lighten up. Lyrics this positive and hopeful haven’t been heard since “The Taste of Ink” on their first album, and the main lick and drumbeat are some of the most memorable on the album. The song is a pick-me-up for both the band and their listeners and is truly a highlight of the album.
“Now that You’re Dead” is a song that will bring a smile to any fan that missed the band’s heavier sound on Artwork. The song is a fast, punky punch in the throat. It truly shows off lead vocalist Bert McCracken’s edgier vocals, as well as how energetic the band can be. It’s similar to the sound shown on “Wake the Dead” on Lies for the Liars, only more developed and interesting.
The next three tracks– “Give Me Love,” “Moving On,” and “Getting Over You”– offer a reprieve from the relentless first half of the album. The first two are still rock songs, but they slow the tempo down a little bit and offer some versatility to the album. “Getting Over You” is the first true ballad on the album, in the vein of “Smother Me” from Lies for the Liars, and easily evokes images of lighters and cell phones waving in the crowd.
“Kiss it Goodbye” and “Hurt No One” pick the energy back up, but neither track really stands out from the rest of the album. “Kiss it Goodbye” has a fantastic bass line, more fun sampling, and a humorous beat boxing/a cappella outro. “Hurt No One” is a powerful enough anthem that is carried by the slowly building drum beat. Both are strong enough tracks, but neither feels completely essential.
The album closer, “Together Burning Bright,” is an enjoyable ballad, but as the final track on the album, it feels lacking. The song is a slow build that never fully climaxes, and it leads to disappointment as the final notes of the album ring out. It feels like foreplay that never really leads to any action. Perhaps this reviewer is clinging too much to albums of the late ‘90s/early 2000s that truly knew how to end an album with a bang, but it feels like the band could have given more than the weak and sudden ending that the album offers.
Despite the fact that the album’s first half is significantly stronger than the second, it should be more than enough to silence any naysayers. It contains enough of the band’s older sound to make original fans happy, enough of their newer sound to retain fans they’ve gained along the way and enough innovation to make listeners happy all around. All in all, the band has always seemed to make the albums they were in the mood to make, and Vulnerable is no exception. Fortunately, they were in the mood to make something that fans of post-hardcore and hard rock can enjoy.