Opening the sleeve of Agony & Irony (Epic Records, 2008), you pull out a rather simple, but elaborate disc with the retro font logo of Epic Records. Alkaline Trio’s first release with this label isn’t the pinnacle, nor the penultimate in their catalog, but is the strongest effort since From Here To Infirmary (Vagrant Records, 2001). It’s as polished as Good Mourning (Vagrant, 2003) and Crimson (Vagrant, 2005), however their creative needles of songwriting rediscovered their grooves in this recording.
It’s easy to disregard the album, as the previous ones quickly faded from favor, since the similarities endure: clever wordplay on the title and common themes encapsulating darkness and death. Yet Help Me was the wedge prying open apathetic stereotypes (same ole songs) deeply rooted. Admittedly, one can only examine a theme so much before it withers away. Yet the essence of Agony & Irony is refreshing due to the changes in tone, which feel more akin to Maybe I’ll Catch Fire (Asian Man Records, 2000) than the past two.
Track 2: Help Me (Official Video, US-only) (Street Video, Everywhere)
Love Love, Kiss Kiss comes across as a confused “anti-love” anthem, bemoaning those who quietly decry. Confused in that the chorus sounds distractingly immature, coupled with similarly sarcastic musical support that takes away from the lyrics. Thankfully Dan Adriano’s efforts are redeemed with his other efforts, particularly Do You Want To Know?. “My heart is ticking like a box sent to me by anonymous, and now I’m scared to open it.”
Agony heavily favors Matt Skiba, as he leads all but four songs. I Found Away is a distinctive “dance” tilted towards Say Anything‘s Baby Girl, I’m A Blur in styling than Blaqk Audio‘s new wave Stiff Kittens. Highlighting Derek Grant, the track holds tighter beats than a drum machine could ever replicate. While Over And Out, dedicated to the National Hopeline Network, uses the Trio symbology of knives, razor blades, and candles interspersed with contemplations of hopelessness from various characters. Yet two-thirds through, a bridge leads the listener to the brighter side as Skiba calls out, “Run for cover and you’ll find us there, to take on the anger, make it disappear when razor blades were softly serenading you…” Over And Out is representative of the album.
It’s easy to spotlight the blood, wine, and flames and dismiss the album as repetitive, but a positive aura surrounds Agony & Irony. Although Alkaline Trio has been distinctively dark since leaving Asian Man, this effort holds a refreshing hidden hope. The album comes in standard and deluxe, with deluxe featuring a 28-page hard-bound booklet and a second disc with 6 extra tracks.