Fans of The Used haven’t been able to latch onto the rage and pit-thrashing since their first two records. They meandered in the name of experimentation musically while still grinding out the teenage heartache and the lost-love syndrome we all go through. Bert McCracken is full of such stories. Meshing pop-punk with grit was something they did well, adding pacey guitars and a hard-screamo edge to boost things. While their recent albums fell by the wayside, as a lifelong advocate and avid listener, Imaginary Enemy stacks up well as a good balance of catchy showtunes and ballads which are sprinkled on top of political missives. It’s their least loud record but an underlying rage beats beneath.
McCracken’s character flourishes with half the record coming off as anthemic, poppy and radio-made a la “Blue and Yellow”. “El-Oh-Vee-Ee” and “Kenna Song” are examples of this. It’s an abject trait at times for them to linger on such teenybopper anthems but there’s an unabashed pride to these simpler refinements. These tracks distinguish themselves well from the more political songs which grind on the lyrical side yet never really get hard-rock in nature.
“A Song to Stifle Imperial Progression (A Work in Progress)” , “Generation Throwaway” and the self-titled track impose themselves as foot-tappers with a powerful political context. USA’s got it wrong and the band establish their stance pretty well. Cynicism rears amid mid-tempo alternative-punk medlies which harken to their Warped Tour days. They spew their themes of self-efficacy while separating it from pretentiousness quite well. They keep the direction catchy and never condescend.
Overall, The Used stick to the basics and these fundamentals, as simple as they are, play off a melodic spine more than anything else. There are throwbacks to the older material but in small doses. What they did here is a step up from the last couple records but it waits to be seen if they can rekindle old magic from their first two. One can hope. Imaginary Enemy is not their conventional stuff but it has their stamp once you’re familiar with and approve of their machinations.
3.5 / 5 Stars
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