When an artist releases a “Best Of”, or in this case re-records songs from their repertoire, certain questions arise. One being the obvious, “why?”. In this case, that question remains unanswered. As exciting as it might of been to hear of the release of Damnesia, all hopes of a solid re-do of some classic Trio songs quickly fall by the wayside after just one spin. Boring, plain, and unobtrusive are three words to perfectly describe the “new” Alkaline Trio album.
Released on July 12th, Damnesia sounds more like a collection released in order to fulfill a contractual obligation rather than a proper release filled with heart, or time spent. Culled together we have a simple, acoustic run through of a series of songs. Damnesia is quick to disappoint.
It all begins with the stripped down and skip worthy “Calling All Skeletons” from 2008’s Agony & Irony, which has no discernible difference when played side by side with the electric version. Matt Skiba clearly gives it his all vocally on track two, “Nose Over Tail”. A favorite among many, most notably for the crowd pleasing sing along pause wherein Skiba proclaims in loving terms, “I’d love to rub your back”. The similarities between the Journey song “Don’t Stop Believing” and the progression found on “Nose Over Tail” has completely escaped me until now. Compare for yourself. You’ll find it at 36 seconds in. Next we have “This Good Be Love” from the darkest of Trio albums, 2003’s Good Mourning. This 2011 rendition may be the album’s only saving grace. Hand claps and echoed percussion adds a silliness to this track that wasn’t found on the original.
Lately, with Alkaline Trio songs featuring Dan Andriano on vocals, the volume level has been a bit overblown as far as his vocals are concerned and “Every Thug Needs A Lady” is no exception. It’s almost as if Matt and Derek have been leaving the mixing sessions early, leaving Dan alone to jack up his vocals to the point of annoyance. I have yet to see the purpose behind the inclusion here of such a mediocre song of off Good Mourning. Such as with “Calling All Skeletons”, track five “Clavicle” can also be played side by side with the electric version and again little or no difference can be heard.
With a slight fuzz added to the “acoustic” version of track six, “Mercy Me” from 2005’s Crimson, Matt Skiba’s vocal delivery is the only audible change. This marks three tracks in a row off of Damnesia that seem pointless in their execution. This is truly turning out to be an album worth skipping as a whole, much like 2010’s disastrous This Addiction.
Speaking of This Addiction, here we have track seven, “The American Scream”. A sharp piano intro that perhaps was miked using a tin can is soon joined by Skiba and company to create an uninteresting revamp. Listeners beware, Damnesia is proving itself thus far as a release that will exercise your use of the skip button. How ironic then is track 8, “We’ve Had Enough”? Not much can be written about this rendition that hasn’t already been stated earlier. Dull and lackluster, “We’ve Had Enough” should of ended up on the cutting room floor. It’s yet another track that will in all hopes send new Alkaline Trio fans out to purchase Good Mourning, along with all their pre-Agony & Irony output.
Track 9, “Old English 800” is one of three new songs. The title alone suggests that the Trio has reverted back to the good old days, writing tales of drunken debauchery and heartbreak. This whimsical assumption is quickly shot down once we realize that it’s just a song about a beer. Clocking in at 1 minute, 37 seconds, Skiba spells out the title in song sending a forceful cringe to the faces of us all. A minute and a half is truly too much time to devote to such a noxious tune. A twangy, country-esq. guitar line replaces the horn section on the Violent Femmes cover of “I Held Her In My Arms”. Done exactly as the original, perhaps the only point of this song is to introduce a new generation of fans to the Femmes or as an ode to a band that may or may not have influenced Alkaline Trio.
“Blue In The Face” hails as the most superfluous track on Damnesia. The final song off of 2003’s Good Mourning, marking the third version released by the band. For those of you who don’t know, a demo version was featured on Side B of the “We’ve Had Enough” 7″. Why Alkaline Trio chose to re-record an acoustic song for an acoustic record is highly questionable. Its inclusion borders somewhere between unsettling and disturbing. “I Remember A Rooftop” is the last of the 3 new songs found on the record. Written by Dan Andriano this track is surprisingly not that bad. “I lost my life on the first try, you found it miles down the line”. Old fans of Alkaline Trio will appreciate this number due to the fact that it’s reminiscent of such classics as “Bleeder”, and “My Friend Peter” from 2000’s self-titled compilation. “Private Eye” from the 2001 album Here To Infirmary strays from its true form to bring a refreshing and less caustic arrangement. Like a breath of fresh air, sadly, “Private Eye” does little to raise the bar in the grand scheme of things.
“You’ve Got So Far To Go” follows the trend, sounding comparable to the electric version found on 2000’s Maybe I’ll Catch Fire. With the hope found in “Private Eye”, the mood quickly changes with this 2011 offering. Quite possibly one of the biggest fan favorites in the Trio cannon is track 15, “Radio”. A totally altered version appears here but will again go unnoticed due to the previous failure of more than half the tracks on the album.
With Damnesia, existing Alkaline Trio fans (if there are any left) will be immediately turned away from this release, as with any future endeavors. It doesn’t take much for a bands core fan base to lose interest over one album, let alone two (2010’s This Addiction). Why did Alkaline Trio wait a full year to release an album of such mundane, barely listenable songs? With a few shining moments, the band seems like they’ve given up. Rather than pine over an album full of memorable hits, Damnesia falls short in many ways.