The weight of expectation on a new album from The Lawrence Arms is so great it’s difficult to fathom. As far as the world of punk rock goes, they are one of the most popular bands on the planet, loved by all and sundry: from old Jawbreaker fans to getting older Fat Wreck fanatics right through to young Gnarwolves followers.
But heavy hangs the head that wears the crown, and following an era of three consecutive exceptional studio albums, the boys from Chicago are burdened with the unenviable task of appeasing the baying masses, eight years after the release of ‘Oh! Calcutta!’
Having set the bar so high for themselves, the merits of ‘Metropole’ have to be assessed on two fronts: firstly as a record in its own right and secondly as a record by The Lawrence Arms. As far as the former is concerned, it’s a success, but on the latter measurement it’s a near miss.
‘Chilean District’ starts things off very much where the last album left off. Quickly shifting up through the gears it’s soon rattling along at high tempo with Chris and Brendan making snappy vocal switches and a general dynamism to the structure.
But despite this introduction, ‘Metropole’ isn’t a smash-‘n’-grab record like their last one. It’s their most sombre, introspective effort yet and represents a departure from the raucous spit and snarl that characterised previous releases.
‘You Are Here’ then follows, and betrays the first signals that there is something altogether darker about their sound this time around. The fast drumbeat remains but Chris’s tone has a melancholic quality, more than has ever been the case previously. There’s something almost uncanny about the way he chimes “I’m the chorus to your broken dreams, footsteps fleeing from a dying scene.” It’s a wonderful song and a reminder of why their music is so goddamn memorable.
‘Hickey Avenue’ tries to shake off the misery like a bad hangover, attempting to inject some vim and vigour into proceedings with a vigorous punk shanty akin to something off ‘Apathy and Exhaustion’. But by now you can already sense a black cloud hanging over ‘Metropole’; the bite is dulled and there’s an anaemic chill as they admit “What are we doing here? Nothing…that’s what’s killing me, that’s what’s fucking killing me.”
This is further entrenched by ‘Seventeener’ which is about growing old and losing that spark. Aptly, the song itself is straightforward and steady rather than rushing and vibrant. This is something that characterises a large portion of ‘Metropole’ and while The Lawrence Arms are more than capable of writing a strong, simple tune, this could still be a potential turn-off for fans hoping for fast and furious rockage.
In fact, the whole cycle of attempting to rekindle their fire and then dousing their own attempts repeats throughout the record. ‘Acheron River’ picks up the pace more convincingly than before with a genuine spring in its step, and then you’re hit with the eponymous ‘Metropole’, haunting and bleak. Brendan aches, “The traffic lights blinked a million times – I blinked twice and 20 years went by.”
The reason I previously described this album as a near miss is because it could have been brilliant; different, darker and a totally different side to the band. But it feels like they are resisting being drawn into this, as if it’s a route they would rather not go down. They’re willing to give us a glimpse whilst not letting go of what they once were but, on the evidence of these songs, are no longer. I wish they’d just allowed ‘Metropole’ to be gloomy and morbid. I’ve already got their other albums and can listen to those whenever I like. I don’t need reminders ruining the flow of this one.
‘Drunk Tweets’ is a crap title for a song which just sounds like a regurgitation of ‘Cut It Up’, and following this are two fairly hollow and forgettable tracks which is something I don’t feel comfortable saying about a Lawrence Arms album. But then the cycle repeats again and the sad lilting guitar in ‘Paradise Shitty’ is way more enjoyable.
Look, I don’t want to give the wrong impression here. ‘Metropole’ is good and I wouldn’t discourage anyone from buying it, especially those who are already fans. But it’s a shame because it was almost something unexpected, but it couldn’t commit to being that. I can understand them playing it safe but I would have preferred them to have been daring and fucked it up than to get a record that ultimately comes across as non-committal.