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9/10

The Used - ‘Artwork’

Tim Newbound
Tim Newbound 1 September 2009 at 16.10

The Used - ‘Artwork’ Cover

The band have refocused their songwriting efforts, and in the process created their best record to date...

In many ways, this, The Used’s fourth full-length, opens a new chapter in the band’s career. It is the first the quartet have recorded without their friend and mentor John Feldmann behind the production desk, electing this time to work with Matt Squire (Panic At The Disco, Thrice). It is also their first album recorded with drummer Dan Whitesides, who replaced Branden Steineckert in late 2006.
More importantly, though, the band have refocused their songwriting efforts, and in the process created their best record to date. Setting out with an agenda to distinguish themselves from a stolid screamo scene, they wanted to rediscover the harsher, less polished style of their debut, and even aimed to coin their own genre, ‘gross pop’.
‘Artwork’ achieves these goals in glorious fashion. Lead single ‘Blood On My Hands’ is the perfect opener: there’s no messing about as they immediately get right in your face, with a song that expertly blends a pop sensibility and sheer rock aggression through its gargantuan chorus, crunching guitars, thunderous percussion and frontman Bert McCracken’s ever-powerful vocals. Elsewhere, fifth track ‘Sold My Soul’ offers a similar, anthemic blend of heaviosity and sing-along appeal.
The Used are of course well accustomed with this approach to song craft, but ‘Artwork’ ups the ante, and includes in its canon a fine selection of softer pop-rock songs. ‘Born To Quit’, for example, sounds very much like the kind of radio hit over which label execs have wet dreams, while ‘Watered Down’’s chiming guitar tones help create an unashamed and unrepentant sugar-sweet pop tune. The piano-led ‘Kissing You Goodbye’, a slow-paced, sorrowful ballad that takes in some fairly overblown guitar solo and string movements, is the kind of song many love to hate, but it’s arguably also a standout in an album full of quality.
But it’s when the record reaches seventh track ‘On The Cross’ that the band truly unleash hell. Beginning with a sample of a provocative speech made by the late, controversial American black nationalist Khalid Abdul Muhammad, it sets off a series of five ace songs that close the album with arse-kicking causticity, taking in some of the best tunes, not just on this album, but in the band’s career. Chief among these are ‘Meant To Die’ and ‘The Best Of Me’, which will surely be a moshpit favourite for the rest of the band’s career, delivering the goods with heart-shudderingly cathartic screams and some fantastic guitar wizardry wrenched from Quinn Allman’s fretboard.
Dark closer ‘Men Are All The Same’ brings the record to a tumultuous conclusion, with McCracken reprising the line “I’m not kissing you goodbye” in the song’s crescendo, before it erupts into a maelstrom of screams.
It’s a fine finish to a full-length that’s awash with intense lyrics about holding it together through the best and worst of times; an album that just gets better and better as the tracklist unfolds. It’s gross pop, dudes, and it sounds frickin’ sweet.

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