Album Review: The Lawrence Arms – “Metropole”

Some bands like to torture people. Six years since the last Dillinger Four album, five years since the last (admittedly disappointing) Rancid album, ten years since the Descendents last cut fresh grooves into vinyl. And its been nearly eight since The Lawrence Arms dropped ‘Oh! Calcutta!’ Extended gulps of time between records come in a variety of reasons; family, day jobs, side projects, hiatus’. When new music is announced, you’ll often find that you’ve grown used to the band’s studio absence and come to realize just how much you’ve missed them. Of course this rock n’ roll work ethic brings up its own special conundrum. Would you rather have a band you love churning out new, less exciting music on a consistent basis, dropping a record, Woody Allen-like in clockwork fashion once a year, or allow them that breadth of time to write, rewrite and perfect a baker’s dozen of some of the band’s best tracks?

Considering the comparatively mellow nature of Brendan Kelley and Chris McCaughen’s side projects as well as the band’s Red Scare alter ego The Falcon, you wouldn’t be given the evil eye for wondering if this has bled into The Lawrence Arms’ music. And the answer to that is, not really. ‘Metropole’ retains much of the grit and punch of previous Arms records, but adds a polish and, dare I say, maturity, that only an album that’s spent eight years in the think tank can provide. So is this a nice way of saying these boys are getting old? I don’t know. They did make the switch to the much less rowdy Epitaph label for ‘Metropole.’ But that could be for a variety of reasons, not least of all the label’s very venerated history. The bottom line is that ‘Metropole’ while perhaps a little softer around the edges than ‘Oh! Calcutta!’ or ‘The Greatest Show On Earth’ it’s also less messy sounding and is unmistakably and undeniably still The Lawrence Arms. In fact, listening to ‘Apathy and Exhaustion’ and ‘Ghost Stories’ recently, I was struck by just how little the Arms’ sound has changed in the last fifteen years. The budget of the records has definitely swelled a few bucks since ‘A Guided Tour of Chicago’ but the song remains the same, so to speak.

I know this is going to be a controversial statement, but I actually like this record better than ‘Calcutta!’ There’s nothing as immediately grabbing as The Devil’s Taking Names or Recovering the Opposable Thumb perhaps, but it’s a record full of solid, quality music that easily balances the punk and rock aspects of this band they’ve always been known for. The initial excitement of a record can be a poor judge of longevity, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the tracks on ‘Metropole’ read like a greatest hits list in years to come:

The galloping charge of Chilean District; the retro 90’s punk boom sound of You Are Here; the impossible catchiness of Seventeener (17th and 37th); the ethereal quality of Metropole; the snarling punk authority of Drunk Tweets; the melodic street poetry of The YMCA Down The Street From The Clinic; the self immolation lullaby of October Blood. This is one of those records that comes shrink wrapped in a certain timelessness and the potential for endless spinning.

I saw The Lawrence Arms years ago open for Bouncing Souls (Hot Water Music was the other opening band, is that a fucking lineup or what?) and I still remember how impressed I was at how much they sounded like their records. This is a quality of a band that can’t be overstated. If you don’t sound as good or better live as you do on your records, you shouldn’t tour. There’s nothing worse than going to see a band brutalize their own songs like some shitty cover band (ahem..Billy Talent). And other than the ever growing polish of their studio work, The Lawrence Arms have always been a band who’s records sound like live shows, and who’s live shows sound like their records. ‘Metropole’ is, in my opinion, no different. So on behalf of everyone who gives a shit, welcome back boys, this time take off your coats and stay awhile.

4.5/5 Stars

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