CD Review of Agony & Irony by Alkaline Trio
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Alkaline Trio: Agony & Irony

Reviewed by Jeff Giles


ard-drinking, eyeliner-wearing emo-punk pioneers, Alkaline Trio started slogging it out in the musical trenches over a decade ago – although you wouldn’t know it from listening to the band’s sixth album, Agony & Irony. The product of a three-year hiatus that saw the band jump from Vagrant to V2, only to see their new label dissolve in a puff of smoke. After signing with what’s left of Epic and hooking up with producer Josh Abraham, the group set about recording its slickest, most accessible set to date.

It’s next to impossible to find fault with Alkaline Trio for doing this. Not only has the band been heading steadily in this direction for years – heck, 2005’s Crimson even featured Roger Joseph Manning Jr. on piano – but they’ve seen countless imitators lap them on the charts; opening for My Chemical Romance a few years ago must have been at least a little galling. Ergo Agony & Irony’s aluminum polish, courtesy of the guy who brought you bestselling AOR mush from the likes of Linkin Park and Velvet Revolver, and a series of songs that do an excellent job of explaining just what the hell Alkaline Trio was doing on “The Hills” a couple of months ago. It’s full of hooks, but the album is angst lite – music about problems for people who don’t have any real obstacles in their lives.

Like any band with punk roots that decides to swing for the commercial fences, Alkaline Trio is bound to take plenty of lumps for an album this clean and shiny, even if it does represent the culmination of a gradual drift. In fact, early reviews from punk-focused media outlets have focused almost exclusively on the band’s “sellout” move, which is as understandable as it is unfair – much as it’s always pained genre purists, every band needs to try something new once in a while.

Problem is, nothing on Agony & Irony sounds new anymore – it just sounds crafty. There’s nothing inherently wrong with pop songcraft, of course, but it should be employed in the service of songs that actually have something interesting to say, and none of these do. Goth kids who hear the Eve 6-sounding “Help Me,” for instance, will cut themselves in horror upon learning that it’s meant as a tribute to Joy Division’s Ian Curtis; everyone else, for better or worse, will probably just feel like they’re standing in a Hot Topic.

Agony & Irony doesn’t pack a lot of punch, but it manages to land a few well-placed jabs before it’s through – most notably the deliciously hooky “Love Love Kiss Kiss,” which sounds like a lost Lit B-side, and makes a persuasive argument for Alkaline Trio as the eventual Goo Goo Dolls of the emo crowd. As Johnny Rzeznik’s accountant could no doubt tell you, it’s a pretty tempting place to be.

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