Returning to a Former Clarity: 10 Years of Against Me!’s ‘Searching for a Former Clarity’

Sunday, September 6, 2015 marked the 10 year anniversary of Against Me!’s third full length album, Searching for a Former Clarity. We here at Dying Scene thought that was a good enough excuse as any to have some of our editors talk about the album and what it means to them.

Today we have Dying Scene editor / reviewer Bizarro Dustin talk about why they cite Searching for a Former Clarity as their turning point into becoming a jaded asshole. You can read their thoughts below.

Here’s something you probably don’t hear too often: Searching for a Former Clarity is my fifth favorite Against Me! record, right behind Reinventing Axl Rose* and ahead of White Crosses. You’re probably thinking to yourself right now that I’m an idiot. You’re probably right, but how about you keep those insults to yourself? Thanks. Now then, back to Searching for a Former Clarity.

2005 was a weird time for music. Fall Out Boy was just beginning their rise in popularity, but was still grounded in pop punk. MySpace was still the way to go for bands and musicians of any genre looking for exposure. There was only one Punk Goes Pop compilation (what a time to be alive!). And then there was Against Me!, gearing up to release a brand new album. In spite of being heralded as the saviors of punk rock, they had already found themselves being held in contempt by punks everywhere and at the front of several controversies, including switching to a predominately electric sound on 2002’s Reinventing Axl Rose, rescinding the rights to Crime… As Forgiven By Against Me! from Plan-It-X, and for signing to Fat Wreck Chords for 2003’s As the Eternal Cowboy. So you’d think that they would have at least caught a break for the release of Searching for a Former Clarity. I’m sure that they did.

But not from this guy.

Let me be clear: I didn’t discover Against Me! until the summer of 2004, so I didn’t care about them switching from an acoustic to an electric sound or signing with a well known independent label (not to mention that I was also just discovering NOFX, Anti-Flag, Less Than Jake, and others around this time, so to me, bearing the Fat logo was like a golden seal of approval). I was actually incredibly excited to be around for Against Me!’s newest album- I finally felt like I was in on a secret and a part of something. It was a great feeling. I wasn’t even turned off after the video for “Don’t Lose Touch” was exclusively released on MySpace (only to be played on Fuse weeks later).

Then the album came out… and honestly, I must have listened to it once or twice, decided that I didn’t really care for its overall slower pace, or its more conventionally structured rock songs because I don’t remember much else about its release. It just wasn’t the same Against Me! that I had come to know and love. Granted, I had only been listening to them for a year, but bear with me here: I was a dumb kid. There were too many slow songs, and it sounded too slick for them; not like it had been recorded quickly or even live. Even the song titles were less inspired than before. A trite complaint, I know, but it was still a move that I took to mean that they changed, maaaan. Much like how the release of this album was finally my moment to be a part of a group who knew about this super cool punk band, it was also finally my moment to feel betrayed by them.

(I just want to add here that no matter how I felt about a majority of the album, I was, and still am, super into “Unprotected Sex with Multiple Partners” for both its title and the fantastic metaphors throughout, and “Holy Shit” deserves to be brought back into their live set because goddamn that is a good fucking song.)

A lot of people like to point at New Wave as the turning point for Against Me!’s sound (this isn’t counting the aforementioned folks who got angry about Reinventing Axl Rose or As the Eternal Cowboy because they were already angry). While I wouldn’t dismiss complaints regarding the ethics of signing to a major label after releasing a DVD devoted to staying independent, or the over-polished sound as a result of working with Butch Vig**, I think Searching for a Former Clarity is the actual turning point in their songwriting. With the traditional verse-chorus-verse structure taking over most of the songs, and more room for bridges and guitar solos, this is when, for better or for worse, Against Me! started to become more a standard, run-of-the-mill rock band. I had always been aware that bands will change their sound, but Searching for a Former Clarity was one of the first times that it occurred to me that I’m not always going to be on board with those changes. It set me on the path to becoming one of many jaded punks who cringes at the thought of a new album by a band I love.

In retrospect, Searching for a Former Clarity isn’t as terrible as I thought it was when I was seventeen. It’s still hardly my favorite Against Me! album by a long shot, but knowing what I know now about the band, I can put a lot of the songs into a whole new context, and I have a new-found appreciation for them. It’s funny, ten years (and the lead singer of a band publicly revealing one of their deepest secrets) can change a lot.

*For the record, I think that Reinventing Axl Rose is a fine album in its own right and it’s an extremely important one from its era. I rank it so low simply because I think that the Crime and The Acoustic EP versions of the songs are superior to their full band counterparts.

**Let’s be real here though: New Wave isn’t *that* glossy sounding.

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